Biographical Database of Black Women Suffragists

Biography of Sarah E. Tate, 1872-1965

By Anne M. Boylan, University of Delaware, Emerita

By the time Sarah Tate attended the founding meeting of the Wilmington, Delaware, Equal Suffrage Study Club in March, 1914, she had already moved from her native city to Newport, Rhode Island. Local sources are silent on her reasons for being in Wilmington and attending the meeting, but she had recently spent time in nearby Philadelphia, taking a millinery course at Temple University and in February was visiting one the Club's founding members, Caroline B. Williams. Another founding member, Mary J. Woodlen, had collaborated with her on church musical events. It seems likely that while she was in Wilmington one or both women invited her to attend the meeting. Returning to Rhode Island after that initial foray into suffrage activism, Tate continued to pursue her career as a music teacher and church organist (and briefly, as a stenographer). There is no evidence that she participated actively in the Rhode Island African American woman suffrage campaign.

Born in Wilmington on February 3, 1872, Sarah Elizabeth Tate grew up in a striving family. At the time of her birth, her father, Hiram Tate, born in Virginia around 1830, had established a niche as a baggage porter at a Wilmington railroad station, where he made a solid living. When he died in 1893, a local newspaper described him as "one of the best known respected colored citizens of this city." Her mother, Hannah Reed, was a Delaware native, born in 1840. Before becoming Hannah Tate, she had worked as a servant in the home of a white employer. When the couple married in Wilmington in 1863 in a service performed by a white Episcopal minister, Hiram Tate listed his occupation as "sailor." During the marriage, they had five children, three of whom survived to adulthood. Sarah was the youngest of the three. While her brothers Andrew and Alexander completed rudimentary schooling, ending their educations after the sixth grade, Sarah graduated from high school, most likely the Howard School, which was the only school in Wilmington providing a full four-year high school curriculum to African American students. Later, in addition to her 1913 certificate from Temple University, she graduated from the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston.

During her years in Wilmington, Sarah Tate worked as a music teacher and was part of a network of middle-class women who engaged in church and community uplift work. In turn, they were tied in to the sorts of national networks that developed among African American women through their clubs and churches, including the National Association of Colored Women and the Women's Convention of the black Baptist Church. The skeins braiding together Sarah Tate with other like-minded Wilmington women included her church, Shiloh Baptist (where she was the congregation's organist), her musical talents, the Howard School, and the Colored Women's League, an organization founded in 1897 with plans to fund an industrial school for "wayward" black girls. At the group's annual meetings, Sarah would have heard speeches from such notable African American educators as Philadelphians Fanny Jackson Coppin and Gertrude Mossell, as well as Mary Church Terrell, president of the National Association of Colored Women. The initial plans for the industrial school came to fruition later, in 1919.

After Hannah Reed Tate's death in 1903, Sarah and her brothers moved to Newport, Rhode Island, to live with an uncle and aunt, Henry and Ella Graham. Newport became their permanent home, where all three exercised their musical talents, Andrew ("one of Newport's best singers") in church choirs, Alexander as a singer and choir director at Newport's Shiloh Church, and Sarah as the Shiloh Church organist. Andrew died in 1922 and Alexander in 1949. Upon her death on July 1, 1965, Sarah Tate was memorialized as "a music teacher and an organist at Shiloh Baptist Church for fifty years." She was buried in the Braman Cemetery in Newport.


Biographical details on Sarah E. Tate and her family can be traced through decennial censuses, genealogical records, and city directories available through and educational compendia found on An obituary appeared in the Newport Mercury, July 2, 1965, p. 3. Local newspapers from Delaware and Rhode Island, available on and, provide useful details, as do notices on her career found in African American newspapers, particularly the New York Age, the Philadelphia Tribune, and the Baltimore Afro-American. (In some newspaper articles, her name is "Sadie Tate.") For her presence at the founding meeting of the Equal Suffrage Study Club, see "Colored Women Want the Ballot," Wilmington Evening Journal, March 21, 1914, p. 12.

For context on Wilmington's African American community and on the Equal Suffrage Study Club, see Annette Woolard-Provine, Integrating Delaware: The Reddings of Wilmington (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2003); Pauline A. Young, "The Negro in Delaware: Past and Present," in Delaware: A History of the First State, ed. H. Clay Reed and Marjorie Bjornson Reed (New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1947), II, 581-606; and Anne M. Boylan, "Delaware's African American Suffragists: Introduction," Delaware History 35, no. 2 (Fall-Winter 2019-2020): 106-116.

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