Biographical Database of Black Woman Suffragists

Biography of Lulie Niles Fisher, 1871-1941

By Georgiana McReynolds
Reference Services and User Experience Librarian (retired)
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Lulie Niles Fisher was a Black political activist and clubwoman who was born in 1871 in Rhode Island. Her parents were descendants of the Narragansett people who settled in the Warwick area where Lulie lived in the beginning and final years of her life. Lulie's father, who served in the 14th Rhode Island Regiment during the Civil War, was the son of Samuel Niles, a direct descendent of the Narragansett preacher of the same name who helped to establish a Separatist congregation for the Tribe. Her mother's family name was Sambo and she could trace her ancestors, who were of Narragansett and Negro blood, back to the late 1600s. According to a 1927 article that appeared in The Topeka Plaindealer, the Rhode Island courts supported a decision in an inheritance case based on the evidence of the Sambo lineage.

Lulie Niles Fisher was born Lucy Ann Niles and over the course of her life she was also known by first name variations such as Lula, Lillie, Lulu, and Sula. Census records indicate that she attended public school in Rhode Island through age 14 but any record of additional schooling or training in her home state or beyond is not readily apparent. In 1900 she lived in Providence and the Census lists her occupation as braider, possibly in one of the textile mills or as part of her life among the Narragansetts.

Lulie was married three times between 1892 and 1918. The first two marriages took place in Providence with the first one ending in divorce. Records are unclear as to the dissolution of the second marriage, although some evidence indicates that Lulie was widowed before she married Joseph Wesley Fisher in 1909. Fisher was the elder brother of Harlem Renaissance writer and physician, Rudolph Fisher. Lulie and Joseph lived in New York City where Joseph worked as a clerk in the Post Office, a somewhat prestigious job at the time for Black men. According to the 1910 Census, Lulie worked as a musician in the theater industry. By early 1918, she had filed for divorce as Joseph was no longer living with her according to the 1917 New York City Directory. In August of 1918 there was an announcement in The New York Age that Joseph had remarried a teacher from Virginia. In July of the same year Lulie was making her own headlines by attending the New York State Republican Convention as one of two Black women delegates.

In her book, African American Women in the Struggle for the Vote, 1850-1920, Rosalyn Terborg-Penn identified Laura B. Fisher as one of two Black activists chosen to attend the 1918 State Republican Convention. The other woman was Gertrude Curtis, the first Black woman dentist to practice in New York. Other sources such as the Negro Year Book and The Crisis have also misidentified Fisher's name possibly confusing Fisher with another delegate named Laura B. Prisk. TheNew York Times, The Sun, and The New York Age all reported that Lulie N. Fisher was the delegate from the 21st assembly district and Curtis from the 19th.

While World War I was on the minds of most delegates, many women from New York State viewed attendance at the Convention as an opportunity to continue the fight for ratification of the 19th amendment and to influence the party platform. It's not clear that the suffrage issue was on the minds of the Black delegates. Lulie attended several convention meetings at a Saratoga Springs hotel where some of the Black men and women delegates met to obtain party support for inclusion of Black nurses in the Red Cross and changes for Black men in the military branches.

The timing of Lulie's entrance into the political arena and the extent of her involvement at the Convention and with other social movements are largely unknown. The information that is known about her life suggests that she did have some ties to party politics. In fact, she also represented her district at the State Republican Convention in 1920 and she was elected second vice-president of the West Harlem Republican Club in 1923.

In 1925, Lulie moved back to Rhode Island with her mother and sister who had been living with her in New York since 1910. She died in 1941 and is buried in the Niles family plot with her grandparents, parents, and sister in Rhode Island's East Greenwich Cemetery.


"79 Women Chosen by Republicans," New York Times, July 11, 1918, Proquest Historical Newspapers.

"Convention Visitors at Saratoga Springs," The New York Age, July 28, 1918,

Dartmouth College. "Narragansett Tribe." Accessed November 16, 2019.

"A Delegate's Report of Republican Convention," Chicago Defender, August 3, 1918, Proquest Historical Newspapers.

Find a Grave. "Lucy Niles Fisher."

"Fortune scores race cowards in Harding appeal," Dallas Express, October 16, 1920, LOC Chronicling America.

Gallagher, Julie A. Black Women and Politics in New York City. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2012.

"The Horizon – Politics," The Crisis, September, 1918 [Link]

"Mary Garrett Hays wins in primaries," New York Times, February 11, 1920, Proquest Historical Newspapers.

"Mrs. Lucy A. Niles Dead," Narragansett Dawn, December 1935, URI DigitalCommons [Link].

"Negro Women in Politics," Negro Year Book, 1918-1919, HathiTrust.

"New York Briefs," Chicago Defender, May 19, 1923, Proquest Historical Newspapers.

"Petition for divorce, Fisher v. Fisher," Topeka Plaindealer, February 1, 1918, Readex: African American Newspapers, 1887-1998.

"Providence, R.I.," The New York Age, August 10, 1918,

Rhode Tour. "Samuel Niles." Accessed November 16, 2019.

"Sit As Delegates At G.O.P. Convention, "The New York Age, July 20, 1918,

Terborg-Penn, Rosalyn. African American Women in the Struggle for the Vote, 1850-1920. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998.

"Trace Ancestry of Negro in Rhode Island 235 Years," Topeka Plaindealer, April 22, 1927,

"Whitman to Head County Delegation," The Sun, July 11, 1918,

Yale Divinity School. "Niles, Samuel (Narragansett), 1706-1785." Accessed November 16, 2019.

All Census, marriage, death, military information obtained through and


Related Writings in Database

View works by

View works about




Back to List of Black Woman Suffragists
back to top