Blanche A. Harris Gilmere (Wills)


Biographical Database of Black Woman Suffragists

Biography of Blanche A. Harris Gilmere (Wills), 1874-1930


By Marques Santos, Student, Saint Martin's University, Lacey, WA

On December 13, 1874 in Tennessee, Blanche A. Harris was born to Richard A. Harris and Lavinia Harris. Blanche Harris had an older brother, Eugene, and two younger siblings, Edward and Maggie.#x00a0 Sometime after 1880 Blanche moved to Ohio and in 1890 she married Reverend James Monroe Gilmere, a migrant from Virginia. In July 1893 in Columbus, Blanche and James had their son, Richard Monroe Gilmere. By 1910 Blanche and family were living in Cleveland and attended weddings and became active in social and civic affairs. In 1912, Blanche was thanked in The Crisis periodical for her efforts as an advocate for women's suffrage during the recent unsuccessful Ohio state campaign. In April 1913 Blanche A. Gilmere assisted in the defeat of a separate marriage bill that would have outlawed interracial marriages.

In March of 1915, Blanche and James Gilmere got a divorce. On June 23, 1916 Blanche married John Walter Wills, who was the owner of House of Wills funeral home. J. Walter Wills adopted her son, Harry A. Wills. He also had a son by his first marriage, J. Walter Wills. According to the 1920 census, father and son worked together in their funeral home.

Mrs. Blanche Wills was a founder and at one point the president of the city and state Federation of Colored Women's Club. She was also the Founder and President of the Over the Top club and the Du Bois Literary Club, which assisted in helping colored people get college training. Mrs. Blanche Wills was a teacher at Miles Standish and Murray Hill public schools for five years.

Blanche A. Wills passed away on February 26, 1930.


"15 Mar 1930, Page 2 - The Pittsburgh Courier at",

"17 Apr 1913, Page 1 - The New York Age at",

"Ohio Sustains Human Rights," Indianapolis Recorder, 26 April 1913, p. 1.

"6 Jun 1900, Page 6 - The Tribune at", and Ohio Department of Health. Ohio, Death Records, 1908-1932, 1938-2018 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2010. U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1600s-Current [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2012.

"Blanche A Wills (1874-1930) - Find A Grave..." Find a Grave,

Ohio Department of Health; Columbus, Ohio; Ohio Deaths, 1908-1932, 1938-1944, and 1958-2007

The Crisis, Vol. 4, No. 5. (September, 1912), p.215.

"We're Giving You Access to Your History." Join Ancestry,

"WILLS, J. WALTER, SR.: Encyclopedia of Cleveland History: Case Western Reserve University." Encyclopedia of Cleveland History | Case Western Reserve University, 25 June 2020,

Year: 1910; Census Place: Cleveland Ward 21, Cuyahoga, Ohio; Roll: T624_1174; Page: 2B; Enumeration District: 0321; FHL microfilm: 1375187


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