Sadie B. Monroe Waters (Taylor)

Biographical Database of Black Women Suffragists

Biography of Sadie B. Monroe Waters (Taylor), 1872-1971

By Anne M. Boylan, University of Delaware, Emerita

In September, 1920, Sadie B. Waters became vice-president of a Sussex County, Delaware, women's organization dedicated to registering African American voters and preparing for the November elections. A teacher at the Greenwood Colored School, Waters lived in nearby Bridgeville, where her husband, George L. Waters, long active in Republican Party politics, ran a grocery store. In October, the couple rallied Bridgeville's African American voters for the Grand Old Party. Then, shortly before Election Day, Sadie Waters delivered what the Wilmington Evening Journal termed a "masterly address" to an enthusiastic audience of voters in eastern Sussex County. Although available sources do not provide documentation on her pre-1920 suffrage work, they of fer clear evidence of her sustained commitment to African American women's voting rights and to the broad project of racial equity in Delaware.

Sadie Waters's activism in the cause of voting rights and her commitment to the party of Lincoln stemmed from both personal and political history. As a child, she no doubt had heard stories from her father, Rev. Henry A. Monroe, of his experience as a drummer boy in the famed Civil War unit, the 54thMassachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment. To Henry Monroe and his daughter, the Republican Party was the party that had ended slavery, guaranteed equal citizenship to African Americans, and extended voting rights to black men. If by 1920 the party had lost its Reconstruction-Era radical edge, few African Americans were yet likely to mark a ballot for the Democrats, identified in the South as the party of disfranchisement and white supremacy.

Born Sarah Monroe in Potato Neck, Somerset County, Maryland, Sadie was the second of nine children of Henry A. Monroe and Christiana Wilson, five of whom survived to adulthood. Her father had moved to Somerset County after the Civil War, sent there as a teacher and school supervisor by the Freedmen's Bureau. Her mother was free-born and literate, the daughter of a property-owning oystering family in Potato Neck. The couple married in1869. During Sadie's childhood, her father started a short-lived newspaper, The Standard Bearer, and entered the Methodist ministry, serving a church in Cambridge, Maryland, before moving to Wilmington, Delaware, in 1884 as pastor of Ezion Methodist Episcopal Church. He later served congregations in New York, Philadelphia, and Camden, New Jersey. Christiana Wilson Monroe died in 1888; Henry A. Monroe died in 1912; both were buried at Mount Zion cemetery in Wilmington, Delaware.

Having trained at Morgan College in Baltimore (now Morgan State University), Sadie Monroe began her teaching career in the Somerset County, Maryland, "colored" schools in 1891. By 1893, she was teaching in the primary department at The Howard School in Wilmington, Delaware, the only school in the state providing a full twelve-year curriculum for African American students. In 1896, she married George L. Waters, a teacher who was also originally from Potato Neck, Somerset County, Maryland. Like that of Sadie's mother, George's family

was free-born, property-owning, and engaged in the oystering business. Like Sadie's father, George's father had become a Methodist minister and had moved his family to Delaware. The couple soon settled in Bridgeville, Sussex County, Delaware's southernmost county which adjoins Somerset County, Maryland. By 1900, both were teaching in Sussex County African American schools. By 1900, too, George had become active in Republican Party politics, taking on a commitment that would grow over time. (Delaware's 1897 state constitution included provisions that effectively ended the disfranchisement of African American men.)

While living and teaching in Sussex County, Sadie Waters immersed herself in church work, a local "Number 2 Union" of the (segregated) Delaware Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), and the Delaware Federation of Colored Women's Clubs. In 1917, she gave a series of temperance lectures in New Castle County under WCTU auspices. She was a regular speaker at WCTU state conventions and in 1918 gave a talk on "Prohibition a Necessity in the National Government of America" at a temperance rally on the campus of Delaware College for Colored Students (now Delaware State University). During the Great War, she received kudos for "spreading the gospel of saving wheat, meat, and sugar" among Sussex County residents, and in 1919, after the Delaware General Assembly had passed a sweeping overhaul of the state's school code, one that vastly increased resources for African American schools, she and George led community meetings at the Bridgeville African Methodist Episcopal Church and at her school in Greenwood to show support for the code and for its philanthropic benefactor, Pierre S. du Pont. A letter that she and two others signed expressed "gratitude and appreciation" to du Pont for his efforts on behalf of "the Negro children of today and tomorrow."

Through such activities, Sadie Waters encountered leading African American clubwomen, temperance supporters, and suffragists, as well as white allies. At temperance meetings at the Garrett Settlement House in Wilmington, she would have met Blanche W. Stubbs, the settlement house's executive director, who was also president of the Delaware State Federation of Colored Women's Clubs, and a noted suffragist. When she gave a temperance speech at the black-owned National Theatre in Wilmington, suffragist Fannie Hopkins Hamilton, whose brother, John O. Hopkins, owned the theatre and was the city's only African American elected official, might have been in the audience. Similarly, at the State College in Dover and in her home county, her temperance and school-code advocacy brought contacts with like-minded women and men.

With the Nineteenth Amendment ratified in August, 1920, Sadie Waters turned her attention to rallying Sussex County's newly enfranchised African American women, encouraging them to register and then turn out to vote on Election Day. It was "their duty to their country and to their race," she told them, to accept "the privilege of citizenship now granted." Her commitment to "votes for women" went beyond the simple fairness of the thing to encompass a broad program of racial equity, including equalization of facilities, curricular offerings, and teacher salaries across the state's segregated schools, criminal justice reform, and state funding for institutions serving black communities. That commitment was clear in the work she completed during the post-suffrage years, using African American voters' electoral strength to press for changes in state policies toward black schools (including reform schools) as well as teacher salaries and pensions. As a member of the legislative committee of the Delaware State Colored Teachers' Association she had a presence in Dover, lobbying for educational justice.

As a trustee of the Industrial School for Colored Girls in Marshallton, a project of the Delaware Federation of Colored Women's Clubs, she helped shape the school's programs. In both endeavors, her colleagues included Alice Dunbar-Nelson, Delaware's well-known teacher, writer, suffragist, and advocate for racial justice.

Sadie and George Waters left Delaware in the late 1920s, moving to Coatesville, Chester County, Pennsylvania, where Sadie taught science and home economics at the James Adams School and eventually became its principal. During the Depression years, she was admired in the community for providing school lunches to needy students. After George's death in 1938, she continued her teaching career until retiring in 1943. The same year, she remarried; her second husband, Adolphus Taylor, died in 1952. Sadie Waters Taylor died on September 5, 1971 in the Chester County Home for the Aged. She was buried at the Mount Calvary Cemetery in Bridgeville, Delaware, alongside George Waters and Adolphus Taylor.


Biographical details on Sadie Monroe Waters and the Monroe, Wilson, and Waters families can be traced through decennial censuses, genealogical records, and city directories available through Ancestry.comand educational compendia found on An obituary appeared in the Delaware County Daily Times, September 8, 1971, p. 4. Local newspapers from Delaware and Pennsylvania, available on newspapers.comand, provided useful details, as do notices on her family and career found in African American newspapers, particularly the New York Age. (In some newspaper articles, her name is "Sarah B. Waters.") The Massachusetts Historical Society possesses a photograph (carte de visite) of her father as a Civil War drummer boy:

These articles provided important family details:
"Rev. Henry A. Monroe Dead," New York Age, July 18, 1912, p. 2.
"Death of Mrs. Monroe," Wilmington Evening Journal, May 29, 1888, p.1.
"Sadie Taylor Dies; figured in controversy," Delaware County Daily Times(Chester, Pennsylvania, September 8, 1971, p. 4.
John Muller, "Lost History: Rev. H.A. Monroe,"

The following newspaper articles were particularly useful in chronicling Sadie Waters's work in temperance, voting rights, and racial justice advocacy:
"Temperance Lectures," Wilmington Evening JournalOctober 27, 1917, p. 5
"Anti-License Meeting," Wilmington Evening Journal, October 23, 1917, p. 12.
"Express Gratitude to P.S. du Pont," Wilmington Evening Journal, November 7, 1919, p. 7.
"Colored Students Display Handiwork," Evening Journal, May 18, 1920, p. 8.
"Sussex Colored Women Organize," Evening Journal, September 18, 1920, p. 4.
"Bridgeville Voters Hear G.O.P Issues," Evening Journal, October 30, 1920, p. 8.
"Sussex Repubs Hear G.O.P. Issues," Evening Journal, November 1, 1920, p. 7.
"Negro Teachers Elect officers," Evening Journal, November 15, 1921, p. 12.
"Sussex Women Rally to G.O.P," Evening Journal, October 28, 1922, pp. 1, 9.
"Ask Higher Pay in Schools," Evening Journal, December 26, 1924, p. 14.

For context on Delaware's African American suffragists and the state's political history, see John A. Munroe, History of Delaware, 3rd edition (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1993), pp. 156-89; 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; Anne M. Boylan, "Delaware's African American Suffragists: Introduction," Delaware History35, no. 2 (Fall-Winter 2019-2020): 106-116; and Anne M. Boylan, Votes for Delaware Women(Newark: University of Delaware Press, forthcoming).

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