Ida E. Duckett Brown

Biographical Database of Black Women Suffragists

Biographical Sketch of Ida E. Duckett Brown, 1871-1950

By Betty Livingston Adams, PhD

Ida E. Duckett Brown, temperance reformer, clubwoman and political organizer, was born in the District of Columbia in 1871. After completing her education, including two years of high school, in the nation's capital, and with her business and organizational acumen already evident, Brown found employment as an industrial clerk in the entrepreneurial and business offices of African Americans in Washington. She also used her ability and training in the service of her denomination. A member of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, in 1897 Ida was elected correspondence secretary for the area-wide black District of Columbia Methodist Epworth League, a national Methodist association for black and white young adults formed in 1889. A few years later, Ida Duckett married Robert L. Brown, a railroad porter and fellow District of Columbia native.

By 1900 the Browns and their young daughter had relocated to Jersey City, New Jersey, where Ida Brown continued her employment as an industrial clerk, primarily in local real estate offices owned and managed by African Americans. By 1924, Ida Brown was a recognized real estate broker and religious leader, and political activist throughout New Jersey.

Her reputation as an influential religious and political leader gained currency during New Jersey's suffrage battles amid the nationalization of Jim Crow discrimination and residential segregation. In late October 1915, as president of the Helping Hand Temperance Union in her local congregation's missionary society, Ida Brown responded to the call of Reverend Florence Spearing Randolph, an ordained African Methodist Episcopal Zion (AMEZ) minister, "to arouse interest in temperance work among colored people." The invitation was to organize a New Jersey statewide African American Woman's Temperance Union (WCTU). At the organizational meeting, Brown enthusiastically endorsed the proposal, stating that the abolition of the saloon would result in better homes, larger bank accounts and more real estate ownership by African Americans.

However, in the wake of the resounding defeat by the all-male electorate of the state's suffrage and prohibition referenda, the missionary women assembled in Trenton, the state's capital, voted instead to organize the New Jersey State Federation of Colored Women's Clubs (NJSFCWC). The newly minted club women created three departments, Suffrage, Race History and Education. They elected Florence Randolph as their first president and Ida E. Brown the first state organizer. From 1915 to 1923, Brown served as the Federation's "traveling General Organizer." By the first annual Federation meeting in 1916, Brown had visited thirty women's clubs and brought in five new ones. In three years, Brown's organizing activities helped grow the State Federation to 85 clubs, with twenty-four added in 1918 alone, with a membership of 2, 616 women.

From 1917 to 1921, Brown also organized African American women's suffrage clubs during her statewide travels; thereby, contributing significantly to the number and visibility of African American women in the suffrage ranks. In 1919 Ida Brown was one of the "prominent speakers" at the "Big Suffrage Rally in Asbury Park" sponsored by the New Jersey Woman Suffrage Association, since 1917 transformed from a middle-class white women's organization into an interracial suffrage movement with the affiliation of the Federation of Colored Women's Clubs.

Brown's economic and business interests intersected with her political activities. As she had done in her temperance advocacy, Brown linked black financial security, family stability and home ownership to woman suffrage and full citizenship. As a member of the Federation's Legislative Committee, she was among the first club women to support a federal anti-lynching bill and to denounce both state and mob violence. The push for ratification succeeded in February 1920 as New Jersey became the 29th state to ratify the 19th Amendment. From February to November, Black women formed county, ward, and district clubs and appointed precinct captains throughout the state. Their suffrage schools, voter registration drives, and get-out-the-vote campaigns altered the political map—and sent New Jersey's first black assemblyman to Trenton in 1920.

As an enfranchised woman, Brown extended her reach into the political arena. From 1921 to 1923 she was a regular delegate to the National Association of Colored Women's Clubs (NACW) biennial meetings along with fellow suffragists Violet Johnson and Mary E. Burrell. Elected First Vice President of the State Federation in 1922, Brown also served as Acting President and Chair of the Executive Board for sixteen months in 1922 and 1923 during president Florence Spearing Randolph's missionary sojourn to West Africa. Brown also organized and served as president of the Jersey City Sixth Ward Republican Club, making it a powerful Get-Out-the-Vote machine for county and state candidates. In 1922, as state organizer of the Colored Women's Republican Unit, Brown led her county organization to become a founding member of the New Jersey Colored Women's Republican Club, a statewide organization whose conferences became a required visit for any Republican seeking statewide office. In 1923 as Acting Chair during president Florence Randolph's trip to Africa, Ida Brown presided over the Second New Jersey Colored Women's Political Conference attended by women from New Jersey's twenty-one counties.

In 1938 and 1939, NJSFCWC elected Ida E. Brown president in her own right. With what Florence Randolph called her "indefatigable leadership," Brown's enthusiasm for and commitment to African American women's empowerment and civic participation promoted social justice.

Ida passed away in 1950 in Jersey City.


Florence Randolph Collection. New Jersey Historical Society, Newark, New Jersey.

Adams, Betty Livingston. Black Women's Christian Activism: Seeking Social Justice in a Northern Suburb. New York: New York University Press, 2016.

"Big Suffrage Rally in Asbury Park," Asbury Park Evening Press, August 7, 1919, 1.

"The Colored Folk of Jersey City," Jersey City Journal, April 24, 1919, clipping.

"Washington District Doings," The Epworth Herald, Vol. 8, September 25, 1897, 272.

"Colored Women's Club Session Enters Second Day at Summit," The Courier-News (Bridgewater), July 30, 1921, p. 2.

"Plainfield Woman Elected Financial Sec'y," The Courier-News (Bridgewater), August 1, 1921, p. 4.

"Plan Convention," The Record (Hackensack), May 29, 1936, p. 2.

"Van Winkle to Aid Clee in Campaign," The Morning Post (Camden), August 16, 1937, p. 2.

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