Carolyn "Carrie" Barnes


Biographical Database of Black Woman Suffragists

Biography of Carolyn "Carrie" Barnes (Ross), 1884-1918


By Jean Bowling, Independent Historian

Carolyn "Carrie" Barnes was born in Kentucky*Dr. Anita Morgan of Indiana University found a record of Carrie's sister's birth in Versailles, Kentucky, but was unable to confirm it as Carrie Barnes's place of birth. in December 1884. Her parents were Lillie Peters and Charles Henry Barnes.

Sometime before 1895 she moved to Denver, Colorado, with her mother, grandmother, and sister. At the age of 10, Carrie joined the Plymouth Congregational Church in Denver and while there worked in the Junior Endeavor. She remained in Denver until her graduation from Denver High School in 1902.

The 1900 census enumerated Carrie and her household members--her mother Lilly, sister Pearl, and grandmother Caroline Peters. Where age would normally have been recorded for Caroline, the census enumerator wrote, "not known. Sold in slavery." Lillie is listed as a widow, employed as a servant.

Following high school, Carrie received a scholarship to Columbia University in New York. She graduated from the University's Teachers College in 1905. Carrie first taught at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama for three years and then moved to Indianapolis, Indiana, where she taught English in the Indianapolis public schools. She is listed in the Indianapolis census in 1910, now 25, living as a roomer and working as a teacher.

When the first Camp Fire groups for colored girls were formed in Indianapolis, Carrie became the guardian. In Indianapolis, she became a member of the Second Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), where her work with the congregation is still revered to this day, and also served as secretary of the Indianapolis NAACP.

In July 1912, Carrie Barnes organized the colored branch of the Equal Suffrage League of Indiana and became its President. Its membership consisted of thirty women and ten men. The colored branch met once a month with all the branches in Indiana "to go over matters of general importance." "Our meetings," Carrie wrote, "are well attended, and both the men and women are enthusiastic. We all feel that colored women have need for the ballot that white women have, and a great many needs that they have not."

On June 28, 1916, she married Hubert Heaton Washington Ross and moved to Boston where he had a dental practice.

Carrie Barnes Ross died in Boston on April 26, 1918, from complications of childbirth. Even though she had only lived in Boston a short time, she continued her activism in social services and education. Her marriage, however, precluded her from teaching in Boston schools.

Her obituary in The Indianapolis Staron May 5,1918, read that she "was for a number of years a teacher in the Indianapolis public schools [and] . . . was well known and . . . prominent in the educational and religious life of the colored people here."

On January 16, 2020, Carrie Barnes was recognized by Rep. Susan W. Brooks of Indiana in the United States House of Representatives for her suffrage work. Rep. Brooks said "Carrie Barnes Ross . . . and many others, recruited Hoosier women from all ethnic, socioeconomic, and religious backgrounds to their ranks, increasing the spectrum of voices calling for equality and opportunity. Their continued efforts . . . were successful in persuading the Indiana General Assembly to pass the Maston-McKinley Partial Suffrage Act in 1917 . . . granting women the right to vote in certain state and local elections." (Later struck down by the Indiana State Supreme Court before it could be exercised.) It is undisputed that the activism of Carrie Barnes contributed to the later success of Indiana becoming the 26thState to ratify the 19thAmendment on January 16, 1920.


Federal manuscript censuses for Denver, 1900, and Indianapolis, 1910. Accessed via

Dr. Anita Morgan, Senior Lecturer, Indiana University of Liberal Arts at IUPUI, emails

A'Lelia Bundles, Chair/President of the Foundation of the National Archives (Washington, D.C.), journalist, and author – telephone calls and e-mails

Susan Ross, Carrie Barnes's granddaughter, e-mails

The Ohio State University, Exhibitions, 1912 Competing Visions of America, e-history. Accessed online at

"An Act of Tardy Justice": The Story of Women's Suffrage in Indiana, Dr. Anita Morgan, 2019. Accessed online at

Women's Suffrage/Indiana, The Policy Circle, Indiana Leadership Council, Leah Nahmias, January 2020. Accessed online at

Joe Carter, "5 Facts About Women's Suffrage and the 19thAmendment," Wall Street Journal, August 18, 2016

Curtis Sittenfeld, "In ‘The Woman's Hour,' the Battle Over the 19th Amendment Comes to Life," New York Times, April 18, 2018

"The Color Line," The Crisis(a record of the Darker Races), 4:5 (September 1912), p. 215.

"Colored Equal Suffragists," Indianapolis News, June 25, 1912, p.12

Remarks of Hon. Susan W. Brooks of Indiana in the House of Representatives, "100th Anniversary of the State of Indiana's Ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution," Congressional Record, January 16, 2020, E53.

Obituaries, The Indianapolis Star, May 5, 1918, p.32.

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