Elizabeth Washington Taylor

Biographical Database of Black Women Suffragists

Biography of Elizabeth Washington Taylor (Morris), 1873-1932

BY AMY TANNER THIRIOT, independent historian and author of the forthcoming book, Slavery in Zion: A Documentary and Genealogical History of Black Lives and Black Servitude in Utah Territory.

An earlier version of this sketch appeared on the Better Days 2020 website and appears here by permission.



Elizabeth Taylor in the August 4, 1900 edition of the Utah Plain Dealer newspaper.
Courtesy of University of Utah Marriott Library Special Collections

In July 1904 Elizabeth "Lizzie" Austin Taylor stood in the Salt Lake City Council Chamber and addressed Black women she had called together from throughout Utah and the American West. The fledgling Western Federation of Colored Women had heard that morning from Utah governor Heber M. Wells and Salt Lake City mayor Richard P. Morris. Elizabeth said: "I am truly proud of this movement; being a race woman I have looked with sorrow upon the condition of our women for many years and I believe that the colored women should stand together more than any other class of civilized women in the world. . ." She outlined the economic, social, and family concerns plaguing black women in America and said that the Federation was to "bring and bind our women together in a helpful way." As its president, Elizabeth led the Federation in supporting black women and their families through social opportunities, charitable work, and The Western Women's Advocate newspaper.

Little is known of Elizabeth's early life. She was born in Kansas in 1873 to William Austin and Ellen Frye Washington, both probably recently freed from slavery. By 1891 the 18-year-old Elizabeth married William Wesley Taylor in Salt Lake City. The 1900 census recorded three children in the Taylor family as well as Lizzie's younger brother, Fred Washington, a coachman. A fourth child, Booker T. was born in 1905.

By 1895 the Taylors began a newspaper, the Utah Plain Dealer, for the small black community of the territory. William served as editor and Elizabeth worked as compositor, setting type for the newspaper they printed faithfully every week for more than a decade.

The 1890s saw one of the great economic downturns in American history and the Taylors were caught up in the turmoil. In May 1897 they were foreclosed upon and their house and property went up for auction at a sheriff's sale.

They may have dodged the sheriff's gavel at this time, but in October 1899 there appeared another notice of a sheriff's sale with the Taylors noted as defendants. By 1900 they were renting the home they lived in.

Lizzie Taylor was an activist from the start. She was one of some 250 in attendance when the Lincoln Republican Club (colored) met at the A.M.E. church in Salt Lake City in September 1896 to affirm support for the Republican presidential candidate, William McKinley. At that same meeting Lizzie was elected vice-president for the coming year. A year later, at a meeting of 200 "Republican woman enthusiasts," "Mrs. Lizzie Taylor was placed in charge of the colored ladies' Republican work." In October 1898 Lizzie Taylor was one of those signing a "Call for Colored Republicans" announcing an upcoming meeting. A month later a newspaper article mentioned "Mrs. W. W. Taylor" and about two dozen other black activists campaigning ahead of the 1898 elections. When Salt Lake's black community celebrated Emancipation Day in September 1901, Lizzie and her husband led the festivities. W.W. Taylor gave the introductory remarks and a subsequent address; Lizzie Taylor recited the hymn, "America."

Elizabeth and William were early members of the Utah Press Association (UPA) and the Western Negro Press Association (WNPA). William served as president of the WNPA for several years and hosted the 1900 meetings in Salt Lake City. Due to their involvement in the UPA and WNPA, William and Elizabeth traveled widely throughout the western United States. Unfortunately, only one edition and several clippings from Plain Dealer remain in existence, so there is little record of their travels and activism, apart from what appears in other newspapers. Much of what is known about their efforts to gain social and political equality in Utah is from the pages of a rival black newspaper, Broad Ax, published in Salt Lake City for several years by the caustic but visionary Julius Taylor.

Religion was equally important for Lizzie Taylor. Two black churches gained ground in Salt Lake City in the 1890s: Trinity African Methodist Episcopal (AME) and Calvary Baptist. Both are still in existence. Elizabeth and her family helped establish both churches but were most closely associated with Trinity AME. In April 1900 she participated in a Salt Lake City convention of the Christian Endeavor Union, a non-denominational evangelical society working with Christian youth. At that event, Lizzie gave a report on "the negro work." "The best progress, she said, was made when color and conditions were disregarded." At the conclusion of her remarks, "She was heartily applauded." Elizabeth led children's groups and participated in the literary society.

William was the grand treasurer of the local black Masonic grand lodge. Elizabeth was active in the associated black women's organization, the Queen Esther Chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star.

During her newspaper career, Elizabeth cared for her household and children William, Myrtle, Leonard, Thelma, and Booker T. Her son Leonard died as a baby from whooping cough, and Elizabeth also cared for her mother and sister-in-law during their final illnesses. The greatest blow came when her husband became ill and died in 1907.

Elizabeth then shouldered his duties as editor and publisher of Plain Dealer. She continued to put the paper out through 1909 or 1910. She traveled to the annual conferences of the WNPA. In 1909 she delivered a paper--not her first--at the meetings of the WNPA, "Is There a Future in Journalism for Negro Women?"

In 1908 Elizabeth married AME minister John W. H. Morris and they had one daughter, Eddean. By 1910 they lived separately, although they worked together on a resolution calling on the Salt Lake City Council to "pass an ordinance submitted with the petition which has for its purpose the assuring of equal rights to all American citizens, regardless of color, in the hotels, restaurants and inns of the city." Although its schools were not segregated, many Salt Lake City businesses were, and the social policies of the time greatly hindered black access to economic security.

Five hundred members of the community came together at Liberty Park in September 1910 to celebrate Emancipation Day. Rev. Morris and Elizabeth took part in the program and "pointed with pride to what had already been done by the colored race since its release from the iron hand of slavery."

Elizabeth and her four living children moved to Grand Junction, Colorado, where she helped establish Handy Chapel (AME). They are all listed in one household in the 1920 census, along with a daughter-in-law, a widowed aunt, and an A.M.E. minister, Rev. Robinson. Lizzie was recorded as widowed, working as a janitor in a bank. Rev. John W.H. Morris was living in Ogden, Utah, divorced and working as a barber. He died in 1926.

Although her personal tragedies and family difficulties ultimately limited her ability to play a continued role in Utah's black community, she resided there for two decades and her energy and charisma brought and bound the women together in a helpful way.

One of the greatest triumphs of Elizabeth's final years was seeing her daughters graduate from the university and work as teachers. In 1930 she was living on her own in Owensboro, Kentucky, where she died at her daughter's home on March 22, 1932.


Elizabeth Taylor in the August 4, 1900 edition of the Utah Plain Dealer newspaper.
Courtesy of University of Utah Marriott Library Special Collections.


"Colored Women in Federation. All of the West Well Represented," Salt Lake Tribune, July 6, 1904.

Paul Emory Putz, "For Race and Region: A Brief History of the Western Negro Press Association," 1896-1920, Great Plains Quarterly 38, no. 2 (Spring 2018): 175-98.

France A. Davis, Light in the Midst of Zion: A History of Black Baptists in Utah, 1892-1996 (Salt Lake City, UT: University Publishing, 1997).

"Observe Emancipation Day," Salt Lake Tribune, 24 Sept. 1901, p. 5.

"Negroes Observe Emancipation Day," Salt Lake Tribune, September 23, 1910.

Federal manuscript census for 1900-1930, Lizzie Taylor, Lizzie Morris, accessed online via HeritageQuest.com

Marriage records for Taylor-Austin and Morris-Taylor marriages, accessed online via Ancestry Library Edition.

Death record for John W.H. Morris in Find-a-Grave.

"Auxiliary Work," Salt Lake Tribune, 29 April 1900, p. 6.

Untitled, beginning, "The Lincoln Republican club (colored)," Salt Lake Herald, 17 Sept. 1896, p. 6.

"Republican Women Meet," Salt Lake Tribune, 22 Oct. 1897, p. 8.

"Sheriff's Sale," Salt Lake Herald, 29 April 1897, p. 7.

"Echoes of the Election," Broad Ax (Salt Lake City, UT), 12 November 1898.

Much appreciation to Elizabeth Taylor's family who preserved clippings from Utah Plain Dealer and provided such enthusiasm for this project.

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