Biographical Database of Black Woman Suffragists

Biography of Mabelle McAdoo, 1881-1961 (Maybelle McAdoo, Maybelle Mcadon)


By Jewel Parker, Graduate Student, University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Mabelle McAdoo was born in Greensboro, North Carolina on March 5, 1881. Little is known about Mabelle's early life. There is not an existing birth certificate or obituary listing her parents or family members. She never married and is listed as single on various census reports and her passport application. Based on this same passport application, we do know that she was a light-skinned African American woman whose father was a native citizen of the United States. Her mother was a mixed-race woman named Fannie B who married Maybelle's stepfather, George Slater, a furnaceman. Maybelle's younger half-brother also lived in the home, George Slater, Jr., born about 1903.

Mabelle identified with the African American community and was an advocate for African American women's rights for most of her life. She did not live out her life in Greensboro. By 1901, she and her mother had moved to Brooklyn, New York. Her permanent residence is listed along with her occupation as stenographer on her 1908 passport application. The witness to the passport is W. H. Smith, presumably Wilford Horace Smith, who knew Mabelle for 7 years prior, and was the first African American lawyer to win a US Supreme Court level case. Mabelle worked as a stenographer for Smith. Mabelle had her passport sent to 150 Nassau Street, Room 907. New York City, New York. This location is later listed in The New York Age as Counselor Wilford H. Smith's address when he takes over as a beneficiary to the Hope Day Nursery for Colored Children.

Mabelle left New York for England and stayed abroad for 16 months. It is unclear why she went abroad, but The New York Age reported that she spent most of her time in Paris, as well as visited Brussels, Berlin, Cologne, The Hague, and London. Mabelle left Southampton on board a ship called Kronprinzessin Cecilie, that is Danish for "Crown Princess Cecilie." She returned to New York on April 7, 1909 and continued to work for Smith as well as a stenographer for the Afro-American Realty Company.

Upon her return to New York, Mabelle became heavily involved in African American women's issues. In 1910, she joined the management team at the YWCA and became chair of their educational committee in 1911. That same year, she and Smith attended a forum at the Civic Club in which the topic of discussion was "Should Women Vote?" In an article in The New York Age dated August 15, 1912, Mabelle is listed alongside several other women who donated their time and financial support to the Hope Day Nursery located at 114 West 132d Street. The Nursery was started in 1903 by Mrs. Emma E. Greene to watch over children while their mothers were at work. According to an April 27, 1916 article by The New York Age, Mabelle continued to work with the Hope Day Nursery. She is listed as a boxholder for the "Kids Follies" fundraiser event held at the Manhattan Casino on May 4, 1916.

On March 6, 1913, Mabelle appeared in The New York Age once again when St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Brooklyn, New York decided to buy an apartment house as part of a project

to find a home for elderly people. Mabelle regularly attended St. Mark's Church. The article states that readers may find out more information about this project in "St. Mark's Church Life," published by the Church Publication Committee. Mabelle is listed as one of two associate editors for the monthly publication.

Mabelle's community involvement did not end with the Nursery and her church. In 1913, a group of well-known African American businesspeople established the Empire Friendly Center, Inc., also known as the Union Rescue Home, to shelter homeless or financially unstable African American girls between the ages of 16 to 25 and help them find employment. Mabelle became the Treasurer for the Center. In the summer of 1917, Mabelle also served as a typist for the Army Draft Board at Saratoga Springs, New York.

Mabelle's community involvement and support for African American women only increased when women gained the right to vote in New York in 1917. In 1918, she urged African American women to vote so that they could end racial oppression. Many black women voted in support of Marguerite L. Smith, a white woman candidate for the 19th congressional. Even though a black man ran against Smith in the Republican primary, more black women, including Mabelle, voted for Smith, perhaps because she had chosen a black woman as her secretary. Mabelle continued to vote in the following elections, citing her occupation as a businesswoman influencing her desire to continue to vote and urge other African American women to vote as well.

Mabelle continued to live a full life in New York. She worked as a notary and as a judge for the Better Babies photograph competition for The Age in 1919. Throughout the 1920s, she was editor of a column called "Women's Realm in Current Topics" for the New York Age, and in 1921, she became the Utopia Neighborhood Club's chairwoman of publicity for a project to open a welfare center. Despite her success, her life did not go without some turmoil. In 1924, she travelled to Greensboro to stay with Dr. and Mrs. J. C. Waddy. J. C. Waddy was a well-known black doctor at the time. Perhaps, the Waddy's were friends or maybe Mabelle sought medical attention for herself and her family. In 1925, The New York Age, reported that she had been away from her job for a month while she fought off a serious illness. This same year, she briefly moved in with her mother following the death of her stepfather.

By 1930, Mabelle had become the owner and landlady of a rooming house. She is listed in the 1930 Voter Census as the owner and head of household for a $20,000 home. At the time, 8 people lived there: 6 females and 2 males. All residents were listed as African American and one was a college student. That same year, she also informed the board at Hope Day Nursery that she would not be running for reelection of her position as President of the Board of Management because she did not have enough time to devote to the role. In 1938, Maybelle's mother passed away. Around this time, Maybelle, who had once been incredibly involved in her community, disappeared from the newspaper records. In 1959, she appears in the New York City directory, but it seems that she retired from her busy lifestyle. Though she had suffered a serious illness, she lived to be 80 years old. The New York death index documents that Maybelle passed away on May 20, 1961 in Manhattan. Yet, her legacy as an African American woman lives on in the lives of those she met, influenced, and convinced to vote.


"Boxholders for ‘Kid's Follies.'" New York Age, April 27, 1916.

"Gift to Hope Day Nursery" New York Age, April 15, 1912.

"Hope Day Nursery to Hold Annual Election of Officers," New York Age, March 8, 1930.

"Hope Day Nursery," New York Age, March 2, 1931.

"Miss McAdoo Ill," New York Age, November 7, 1925.

"Of Interest to Women," New York Age, March 14, 1925.

"Our History." Greensboro Medical Society. Accessed August 17, 2019.

"Prize Babies Will Get Cups," New York Age, July 6, 1916.

"St. Mark's Church Buys Apartment House," New York Age, March 6, 1913.

"Utopia Club Campaigns for a Welfare Center," New York Age, February 26, 1921.

"Young Women's Christian Association," New York Age, June 29, 1911.

McAdoo, Mabelle. "First Impressions of a Woman Voter," New York Age, March 16, 1918.

McAdoo, Maybelle. "A Greeting!" New York Age, March 21, 1925.

Perry, Elisabeth Israels. After the Vote: Feminist Politics in La Guardia's New York. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019.

Riser, R. Volney. Defying Disfranchisement: Black Voting Rights Activism in the Jim Crow South, 1890-1908. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 2010.

The New York Charities Directory. New York, Charity Organization Society, 1917.

Weisenfeld, Judith. African American Women and Christian Activism: New York's Black YWCA, 1905-1945. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997.


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