Biographical Database of Black Woman Suffragists
Biography of Nora Fields Taylor, 1870-1923
By Thomas Dublin, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, SUNY Binghamton
Nora Fields was born in January 1870 in Carrollton, MO, daughter of Robert and Emily Fields. She likely married in the mid-1880s and gave birth to a son, Benjamin Waters, in Missouri sometime between 1886 and 1890 (census listings vary on his age and hence his birth year). In 1891, they moved to Chicago where she became active in the African Methodist Episcopal church. One contemporary source described her as "the great evangelist, sweet singer . . . a member of Quin[n] Chapel. Many souls have been brought to Christ by her preaching."
Two censuses provide further information. Fields married William Taylor in 1895 and the 1900 census recorded him as a painter and Nora as a messenger. Benjamin, now 14, was working, but no occupation was noted in the census. A migrant married couple boarded in the household at 3448 State Street in Chicago's Black Belt. She next appears in the 1920 census of Chicago, a 49-year-old widow working in purchasing for a crusher business. Her son, Ben, is recorded as 30 years old, remains single, resides with his mother, and works as a railroad laborer. The family has taken in a lodger who works as a railroad porter.
Fields's life was organized around her church activity at Quinn Chapel. She served as a stewardess for three years and then in 1903 she was authorized to serve as a missionary evangelist. She became president of the local branch of the Women's Parent Mite Missionary Society of the AME Church and in that capacity did extensive fundraising for the church's missionary work in Africa. She attended the Society's quadrennial meetings and in 1915 was a member of the Society's governing board. By the early 1920s she was the 1st Vice-President of the Society. She raised funds to purchase an episcopal residence for the AME Church in Monrovia, Liberia and involved fellow members of the Illinois Federation of Colored Women's Clubs in the effort. In 1923 the church purchased a "palatial" building and she journeyed to Liberia to see the AME Bishop and his wife installed in the residence.
Shortly after her return from her African trip, Nora Taylor passed away suddenly. Fellow suffragist and president of the Mite Missionary Society, Mary F. Handy spoke at the Quadrennial Convention of the Society that met in Brooklyn in October 1923, describing her funeral: "For blocks and blocks the high and lowly stood to watch the funeral car pass up the street." The girls school in Sierra Leone was subsequently renamed the "Nora F. Taylor School" in her honor. Her son Ben attended the meeting as well and described his mother's work for the Art Committee on her recent African trip.
In a memorial note in the A.M.E. Church Review, the noted AME minister, Reverdy Ransom, eulogized Nora Taylor: "there are few people to whom it is given to have in large measure both the gift of song and public speaking . . . she could do both and do them well. She could sing an audience to a pitch of shouting enthusiasm and preach them into a melting tide of emotion.'"
Extensive research did not turn up references to Taylor's woman suffrage activities, but in her work with the Women's Parent Mite Missionary Society and the Illinois Federation of Colored Women's Clubs she worked extensively with other black activists who engaged in suffrage work.
"Missionary Women Get After Dr. Rankin," New York Age, 4 Nov. 1915, p. 1.
Reverdy Ransom, "Editorial: Nora F. Taylor," A.M.E. Church Review 40 (October 1923), 91-92.
Full text of "Golden Jubilee: The Eighth Quadrennial Convention of the Women's Mite Missionary Parent Society of the African Methodist Episcopal Church," 1923, accessible online at https://archive.org/stream/goldenjubileeeig00unse/goldenjubileeeig00unse_djvu.txt.
Federal Manuscript Census: 1900, 1920, Chicago households of Nora F. Taylor. Accessed via HeritagQuest.com.
Ancestry Library Edition, death record of Nora F. Taylor, Chicago, 10 Sept. 1923.
Elizabeth Lindsay Davis, The Story of the Illinois Federation of Colored Women's Clubs 1900-1922 (Chicago, 1922) [LINK]
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