Biographical Database of Black Woman Suffragists

Biography of Miss Nettie Johnson, 1880s-?

By Michelle Moravec, professor, Rosemont College

Among the delegates listed as attending the annual meeting of the Empire State Federation of Women's Club in 1913 when they endorsed woman suffrage is a Miss Nettie Johnson. Due to her common name, identifying Nettie Johnson in birth, death, or census records has proven impossible, yet a "Miss Nettie Johnson" appears in sufficient articles during this era in The New York Age for us to construe something of her life.

A "Nettie Johnson of Williamsbridge" was involved in the Negro Exposition of Westchester County held in New Rochelle, New York in May of 1909. As often occurred at expositions, a woman's board was organized, which in turn delegated to local women the charge of organizing exhibits or contributions from their city. Johnson and Miss Anna Walker of Williamsbridge feature prominently in the advertisements for the Exposition as they were listed as "the ladies in charge" of the "woman's day program." Mrs. Keyser, president of the Empire State Federation of Women's Clubs is listed in the same advertisement as representing the White Rose Mission at that event, which is one piece of evidence to connect Nettie Johnson of Williamsbridge and the delegate to the Empire State Federation of Women's Clubs.

For over a decade, the social notes of The New York Age provide glimpses into Nettie Johnson's friendships. For example, Nettie Johnson and Bertha Williams visited sisters Lillian and Nellie Hatcher of Tarrytown, NY. The Hatcher sisters were prominent members of AME Zion church of Tarrytown where their contributions to church services often merited mention in the New York Age Tarrytown notes section. Like Lillian Gray and Bertha Williams, Nellie Hatcher was a dressmaker. She graduated from the YWCA training program in Manhattan. Lillian Hatcher, as a member of the Shiloh Baptist Church Literary Society, eulogized Paul Dunbar at a memorial service in 1906.

These social visits then link Johnson to club women with ties to the Empire State Federation of Women's Clubs. Also visiting the Hatcher sisters at the same time as Nettie and Bertha was Lena B. Jackson of Dobbs Ferry, who was affiliated with Lincoln Settlement House, a member organization of the Empire State Federation of Women's Clubs.

Johnson's longest documented friendship is with Bertha Williams Oliver, who following her marriage and move to New Jersey, was a devoted clubwoman, active in the WCTU and the New Jersey Federation of Colored Women's Clubs. Nettie Johnson was a frequent visitor at Bertha Oliver's home in Jersey City and seems to have been among her most intimate acquaintances, visiting with Oliver's aunt Lydia Ashby in September of 1917, the last record found of Nettie Johnson of Williamsbridge.

If indeed, we have identified the correct delegate, Miss Nettie Johnson of Williamsbridge, New York, was likely born in the 1880s in Loudoun County, Virginia. We can construe this limited familial history through the various newspaper notices of visiting relatives. Nettie's cousin, who shared a paternal surname, Mayme E. Johnson Gate, had parents Edward and Hattie from Loudoun County, Virginia. Nettie's cousin, as well as friends with whom she is frequently mentioned, discussed above, were born in the 1880s. Thus it seems likely Nettie Johnson was born into the Johnson family of Loudoun County, Virginia sometime during the 1880s.

Although we have no clue as to Nettie's occupation or, indeed, if she had one, we can gather information about her social standing. Nettie, along with other female relatives, traveled to Pittsburgh to attend, mostly likely as the guests of the aforementioned Mayme E. Johnson, The Fleur-de-Lis ball, organized by "a prominent colored organization." This cousin was a woman of some independent means. Nettie herself had sufficient resources to host a reception in honor of yet another relative, Lillian Gray of Philadelphia, at the Empire Hall in Williamsbridge. Guests from Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Jersey City attended.

At this point, the digitized archival records fails Nettie Johnson. Perhaps at some point in the future, as more records move online, it will be possible to identify more fully the details of her life.


Indianapolis News (Indianapolis, Indiana), Apr. 10, 1909, accessed via

"Exposition by Negros," White Plains Daily Argus (White Plains, New York), Mar. 24, 1909, accessed via

"Prepare for Exposition," New Rochelle Pioneer (New Rochelle, New York), Apr. 3, 1909, accessed via

"Opening of the Westchester County Negro Exposition," New York Age (New York, New York), May 20, 1909, accessed via

"Base Ball Men Entertain," New York Age (New York, New York), June 29, 1905, accessed via

New York Age (New York, New York), Oct. 5, 1905, accessed via

"Tarrytown News," New York Age (New York, New York), Mar. 29, 1906, accessed via

"A Mock Convention," New York Age (New York, New York), Jul. 9, 1908, accessed via

"Commendable Tone of the Negro Press," New York Age (New York, New York), Dec. 3, 1914, accessed via

"New J'rs'y Women Hold 7th Annual Convent'n," New York Age (New York, New York), Oct. 7, 1922, accessed via

"Jersey City, N.J.," New York Age (New York, New York), Sept.13, 1917, accessed via

"Jersey City, N.J.," New York Age (New York, New York), March 12, 1914, accessed via

"Held Annual Ball," Republic (Meyersdale, Pennsylvania), Aug. 13, 1908, accessed via

Related Writings in Database

View works by

View works about




Back to List of Black Woman Suffragists
back to top