Biographical Database of Black Woman Suffragists

Biography of Irene Goins, 1876-1929


By Thomas Dublin, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, SUNY Binghamton

Irene Sappington was born in December 1876, the daughter of Newton and Elizabeth Sappington of Scott, IL. Her father was a farmer. She attended grammar and high school in Springfield, IL. At 17 in 1894 she married Henry S. Goins and the couple migrated to Chicago the next year.

By 1898 Irene had opened up a millinery business. The Goins are listed in the 1900 and 1910 censuses for Chicago with no children living with them in either year. Henry was listed as a painter in 1900 and a decorator ten years later. Irene was recorded as a milliner in 1910. In that year their household included three roomers, a married couple and a widowed woman. In 1900 they rented their quarters, but by 1910 they had bought their home at 2942 Prairie Ave., though it was mortgaged. They continued to live in that home when Irene died in March 1929.

That stability enabled Irene Goins to lead an active church, community and club life. She was a member of Quinn Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1913 she was active in the 8-hour campaign of the Glove Makers Union and Chicago's branch of the Women's Trade Union League (WTUL). She also helped organize stockyard workers, founding the Women's Labor Union during World War I. Between 1917 and 1922 she sat on the Executive Council of the Chicago WTUL. In June 1922 Goins served as a Chicago delegate to the national convention of the WTUL held in nearby Waukegan, IL. At the same time she volunteered to work with women and girls at the YWCA and was a member of the Ancient Order of Foresters and the Supreme Royal Circle of Friends, two black fraternal organizations.

She took active part in the black women's club movement in Chicago and in 1917 the clubs organized a "committee on women and children in industry." They sought to of fer recent migrants to the city "instruction along lines of health, cleanliness, and punctuality." Reporting on their efforts, Goins "stated that so far her committee were meeting with great opposition from the [white] employers of Negro women, who did not care to give them the time to get the ten minute lessons." She served as president of the Chicago and Northern District Federation of Women's Clubs and in 1924 she was elected president of the statewide Illinois Federation of Colored Women's Clubs.

Woman suffrage was a major goal for Goins. In early May 1914 she was one of two black women leaders appointed to serve as aides to white leaders planning a "monster parade . . . [of] Chicago suffragists." She was noted in this account as the vice-president of the Political Study Club. In April 1916 the City Federation of Colored Women's Clubs held a meeting at the Institutional Church and Goins, as chair of the Civic Department, worked to assure a large attendance at the event which was to be a lead up to "the great suffrage parade . . . to be held June 7th." After the passage of the 19th Amendment, Goins helped found and was elected the first president of the Douglass chapter of the League of Women Voters. She also served as the first black director on the board of the Illinois League of Women Voters. In 1924 she served as an Illinois delegate and attended the fifth annual convention of the National League of Women Voters held in Buffalo, NY.

Her non-partisan political activism led quite seamlessly into work in support of the Republican party. In the fall of 1916, Goins worked as vice-chairman of the campaign among Chicago black women for Republican presidential candidate, Charles Evans Hughes. This was the first presidential election in which Illinois women could vote. In the 1920s, Goins served as state chairman of the Colored Women's Department of the Republican National Committee. She also organized Colored Women's Republican Clubs of Illinois in support of the 1924 Coolidge campaign.

In addition to her participation in Chicago's vibrant black club movement and black political life, Goins was active in interracial activities in the city. In August 1919, following race riots in Chicago, she was the lone black woman on a special committee that met at the Woman's City Club "to investigate the causes of race disturbance and to work on a solution of the race problem." In 1927 at a dinner honoring recently retired social reformer, Mary McDowell, Jane Addams and Irene Goins were the featured speakers. The journey for a black farmer's daughter in southern Illinois to become a pillar of Chicago's black community three decades later was quite a transformation, but was not an entirely uncommon story for black suffrage activists in the early twentieth century.


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.

Chicago Defender:

"Mrs. Crawford and Mrs. Goins to March with Suffragists," May 2, 1914, p. 1.

Untitled, April 8, 1916, p. 4.

"Y.W.C.A. Plans Will Make It Charm School," Oct. 14, 1922, p. 5.

"Chicago Woman Made Head of Illinois Clubs," Sept. 6, 1924, p. 1.

"City Mounrs [sic] Death of Mrs. Irene Goins," Mar. 16, 1929, p. 3.

Chicago Tribune:

Untitled, Aug. 16, 1917, p. 15.

"Women Launch Search for Race Problem Solution," Aug. 20, 1919, p. 21.

"Women's Trade Union Meets in Waukegan Club," June 1, 1922, p. 16.

"Women Voters to Meet in Buffalo," April 20, 1924, p. 88.

"Miss M'Dowell to be Honored by Round Table," June 19, 1927, p. 18.

"Mrs. Irene Goins, Active Colored Leader, Is Dead," Mar. 13, 1929, p. 32.

U.S. Federal Manuscript Census, 1880, Scott, IL; 1900 and 1910, Chicago. Accessed via

Ancestry Library Edition, death record, Irene Goins, 13 March 1929.


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