Margaret Briggs Gregory Hawkins

 

Biographical Database of Black Woman Suffragists

Biography of Margaret Briggs Gregory Hawkins, 1877-1969

 

By Ida E. Jones
University Archivist at Morgan State University

Co-founder of the DuBois Circle, Suffragist

Margaret Briggs Gregory was born in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, on August 5, 1877, the only daughter of James M. Gregory and Fannie Emma Whiting Hagan. Her childhood home, the aspirations of her parents, and their dedication to social justice infused Hawkins with a birthright calling to disrupt injustice through education. Her father worked as the principal of Bordentown Academy. His influence charted a course in education for Margaret.

The Gregory family grew deep roots at Howard University, where Margaret graduated from the preparatory department. She was also a graduate of St. Augustine College in Raleigh, North Carolina and Boston University, where she majored in history. After graduation, she entered the field of education and taught high school at the Bordentown School (officially titled, the Manual Training and Industrial School for Colored Youth, the State of New Jersey). For two years, she taught English, Latin, and German. Then she moved to Baltimore, Maryland, joining the faculty at Frederick Douglass high school. Her principal subject area was American history.

While teaching at Douglass, she met her future husband, Mason A. Hawkins, who was the school principal. They married in Bordentown, in 1905. Their union produced two sons, who both served in World War II. Gregory and Mason A. Jr. were sent to Fort Meade together for induction and preparation for the war.

Hawkins's civic engagement expanded in Baltimore. She involved herself in a number of activities and organizations. She served on the Board of Managers of the Druid Hill Branch of the YWCA and as a member of the Central Branch. She was the first African American woman to serve on the Central Branch YWCA executive committee of the Board of Directors. In 1933, she was appointed to the Board of Managers of the Maryland Training School for Colored Girls, which merged with the majority white Montrose School for Girls. Maryland Governor Albert T. Ritchie appointed her to a six-year term on the Maryland Training School Board. In 1939, after a successful term, she received another six-year appointment to the School Board.

Hawkins was a founding member and served as the first president of the DuBois Circle in 1906. She served as the vice president of the Progressive Women's Suffrage Club. Hawkins also allowed for frivolity and was a member of the Fortnightly Whist Club and a sewing club.

Her suffrage activities included the 1909 effort by African American women to ensure the retention of the 15th Amendment opportunity for black men in Baltimore city. The women were successful in galvanizing African American men to vote, register, and retain the franchise. In 1915 and 1916 Hawkins held meetings of African American women's suffrage clubs in her home on Druid Hill Avenue. For these African American women defending the ballot for both men and women was a high priority. The franchise for women echoed throughout the state and the community.

Hawkins died on April 8, 1969 in Baltimore, at the McCulloh Street nursing home at age 91. Her funeral services were held at the historic St. James Episcopal Church at Lafayette and Arlington avenues.

Sources:

Hawkins's early years are documented in the T. Montgomery Gregory papers at the Moorland Spingarn Research Center, Howard University. Her life in Baltimore is documented in theBaltimore Afro-American, The Baltimore Sun, and Maryland Census Records. Her involvement with the DuBois Circle is detailed in the DuBois Circle archives. Several books were helpful in detailing her activism, including: Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham's "Club Women and Electoral Politics in the 1920s," African American Women and the Vote, 1837-1965 (edited by Ann Gordon, et a l., University of Massachusetts Press, 1997); Cynthia Neverdon-Morton,

Afro-American Women of the South and the Advancement of the Race, 1895-1925 (Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee, 1991); and Ida E. Jones, Baltimore Civil Rights Leader Victorine Q. Adams the Power of the Ballot (Mount Pleasant, SC: Arcadia/The History Press, 2019).

See also "Augusta Chissell and Margaret Hawkins Worked Side-by-Side for Women's Suffrage," in the Dying to Tell Their Stories blog, January 23, 2020, online at https://www.dyingtotelltheirstories.com/home/2020/1/23/augusta-chissell-and-margaret-hawkins-worked-side-by-side-for-womens-suffrage

 

Photo credit: Courtesy of the Thomas Montgomery Gregory collection, Moorland Spingarn Research Center, Howard University.

 

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