Biographical Database of Black Woman Suffragists

Biography of Theresa Gray Macon, 1873-1930


By Thomas Dublin, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, SUNY Binghamton

Theresa (sometimes Teresa) Gray was born in Louisville, Kentucky on June 3, 1873 to Seamon and Jane Bush Gray. In the 1880 census the family was living in Louisville and Seamon Gray was employed as a janitor in City Hall, while Jane, recorded as the household head, kept an eating house. Teresa was the oldest of three children, attended school, and was said to be 9 years old, an age that differed from the birth information later recorded in her death record. An aunt, Ellen Bush, 25, also resided in the Gray household, working as a servant.

In the Story of the Illinois Federation of Colored Women's Clubs, Theresa is said to have migrated "with her mother and sister to Chicago at an early age." In 1896 Theresa married William B. Macon In the 1900 census Theresa was 28 and William was 42 and worked as a porter. The couple owned their own home, though it was mortgaged, at 606 W. 56th Street in the 30th Ward. In this census and in subsequent censuses, William and Theresa were never recorded as having children.

In 1910 the couple continued to live on W. 56th St., but Theresa's aunt Ellen Bush now resided with them. William worked as a porter still, in a shoe house. By 1920 William had moved up the occupational ladder and was recorded as a salesman. The couple, living alone once again, owned their house, free of mortgage. They had now been married 24 years.

William died in the next decade and in the 1930 census Theresa was listed as a widowed household head with six lodgers, now on Champlain Ave, a home valued at $10,000 that she owned. While she had no listed occupation, it is safe to say she was keeping a boarding house for migrants to the city. Four came from southern states and two from Ohio--none were born in Illinois.

These successive census snapshots show a Chicago migrant who was successful over four decades in achieving middle-class status as a homeowner and boardinghouse keeper. That status was reflected in her active participation in the black women's club movement of Chicago in these years. The earliest record of Macon's participation in the black club movement was her election as recording secretary of the National Association of Colored Women (NACW) in August 1899, when the association's biennial national conference met in Chicago. In 1910 she was serving as the State Organizer for the Illinois Federation of Colored Women's Clubs. A short bio sketch in Lifting As They Climb described her as "one of the most popular women in church, club, civic, and fraternal life in local, state and national organizations." By 1911 she was president of the City Federation of Colored Women's Clubs (CFCWC). In April 1912 she introduced Mary Church Terrell as a speaker at a CFCWC-sponsored meeting at the Bethel AME Church. In 1915, in her capacity as president of the Illinois Federation of Colored Women's Clubs, she visited a club in Torino, IL, where she "discussed many good things with the women . . . in regard to club work and the suffrage question."

The NACW formally adopted woman suffrage as an Association goal in 1912. A year later Macon became a member of the Alpha Suffrage Club, founded by Ida B. Wells to build support for woman suffrage. After the Illinois state legislature approve woman suffrage for presidential and municipal elections in July 1913, the club sponsored "a big automobile parade . . . [that] started from Grant Park . . . [with] a hundred or more gaily decorated automobiles." Mrs. Macon was among club members who participated.

She continued to be active in the club movement in the 1920s and served a term as president of the Chicago and Northern District Association of Colored Women, the renamed CFCWC that she had led a decade earlier. She passed away in Chicago in November 1930 at the age of 77. Her younger sister Marguerette Gray was living with her on Champlain Ave. at the time of the federal census earlier that year and likely cared for her in her final days.


Lisa G. Materson, For the Freedom of Her Race: Black Women and Electoral Politics in Illinois, 1877-1932 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009).

Elizabeth Lindsay Davis, Lifting As They Climb (Washington, D.C., 1933), p. 142.

Elizabeth Lindsay Davis, The Story of the Illinois Federation of Colored Women's Clubs, 1900-1922 (Chicago, 1922), p. 67.

Wanda Hendricks, Gender, Race, and Politics in the Midwest: Black Club Women in Illinois (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998).

Chicago Defender:

"Phyllis Wheatley Club," 28 May 1910, 4.

"Our Women," 9 March 1912, 4.

"The Alpha Suffrage Club," 5 July 1913, 1.

"Amendments Trampled Upon Like Dirty Rags," 20 April 1912, 1, 6.

"Four Hundred Delegates Attend National Asso. of Colored Women," 12 Aug. 1916, 1, 4.

"Federated Clubs Meet," Sept. 9, 1916, 7.

U.S. Federal Manuscript Census, 1880, Louisville, KY; 1900-1930, Chicago. Accessed via

Ancestry Library Edition, death record, Theresa Macon, 25 November 1930.


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