Maria (Mrs. C. H.) Banks


Biographical Database of Black Woman Suffragists

Biography of Maria (Mrs. C. H.) Banks, 1874-1930


By Thomas Dublin, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, SUNY Binghamton

Maria Banks (maiden name uncertain) was born in Virginia about 1874. She was a graduate of Hampton Institute and married Charles H. Banks in 1899. In 1900 the couple were living in Buffalo, NY, without children. He was also black, Virginia-born, and worked as a railroad porter. The couple continued to live in Buffalo and were recorded without children in the federal censuses of 1910 and 1920. They rented their home both years and Charles was a railroad porter in 1910 and a railroad messenger in 1920. Charles is listed in Buffalo city directories between 1901 and 1924, mostly as a railroad porter, but occasionally as a messenger or a janitor.

In the 1930 census for Buffalo, Charles is absent and Maria was listed as an inmate in Buffalo State Hospital. She died in April 1930.

Maria led an active life in black organizations in Buffalo between 1900 and 1920. She was an early member of the Phyllis Wheatley Club, an affiliate of the National Association of Colored Women (NACW). In 1901 she served as the club's recording secretary, in 1902 as secretary, and in 1905 as president. The club supported an Old Folks' Home and organized a mothers' club that met weekly. At Christmas the club served a dinner for the poor, noting with some pride that "nearly two thirds of the feasters were white folks." They visited public schools to check on the performance and treatment of black children. They worked "among fallen women" and opposed the creation of a vice district neighboring the city's black churches. In 1905 they opened a settlement house in the "thickly-populated colored district." They viewed their activities as all aimed "for the betterment and promotion of this race."

The NACW held its annual meeting in Buffalo in 1901 and Mrs. Banks was part of the receiving party for 500 attendees at a reception and dance at the meeting. In July 1905 the Western New York Federation of Colored Women's Clubs—bringing together some twenty black women's clubs-- held its annual convention in Buffalo and Mrs. Banks addressed the gathering on the final evening of the event. "Women's Suffrage" was "one of the subjects of discussion which created considerable interest."

Lastly, the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church was a focus of Banks's voluntary work. In June 1905 the New York conference of the AME Church met in Buffalo and Mrs. Banks gave a report on the work of the Christian Endeavor Department, a youth outreach effort of the church. In 1907 she joined a large group of fellow parishioners to hold a surprise party for Rev. William Gumbs, pastor of the Vine Street AME Church. In 1915 she served on a committee for a "sacred concert and tableau" given at the Bethel AME Church.

She was also a member of the interracial board of the Colored Social Center in 1911-1912 and served as chairman of the patroness list for a Charity Ball held to benefit the center. She was also an active supporter of the founding of the Buffalo branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1914-1915. Local newspaper coverage of Maria Banks ceases after 1915 and we lose track of her club, church and community activity, if any, in the final fifteen years of her life.


Federal manuscript censuses of Buffalo, 1900-1930, accessed via

Ancestry Library Edition, death record for Maria Banks, 2 April 1930; city directory entries for Charles H. Banks, 1901-1924. No birth or marriage records were found for Maria or Charles.

Buffalo newspaper accounts of Mrs. C.H. Banks, 1900-1930, using the indexing of Newspapers mentioning Mrs. Banks included the Buffalo Courier, Buffalo Morning Express and Illustrated Buffalo Express, Buffalo Enquirer, Buffalo Review, Buffalo Evening News, and Buffalo Times.

Jennifer A. Lemak and Ashley Hopkins-Benton, Votes for Women: Celebrating New York's Suffrage Centennial (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2017), p. 76.

Lillian S. Williams, "'And Still I Rise': Black Women and Reform, Buffalo, New York, 1900-1940," Afro-Americans in New York Life and History, 14:2 (31 July 1990), 7-34.

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