Biographical Database of Black Woman Suffragists

Biography of Mrs. Julia Dorsey, 1850-1919

By Ryan Linthicum, Smithsonian Institution

Mrs. Julia Dorsey and her husband, Ignatius Dorsey, were African American signers of an 1877 petition in Washington D.C. calling for women's suffrage. Among the signers (and likely circulators) of this document were Frederick Douglass, Jr. and his wife, and his sister, Rosetta Douglass Sprague, and her husband Nathan Sprague. The couple were also signers of a second women's suffrage petition circulated by Frederick Douglass, Jr. and his wife, Virginia Hewlett Douglass, in 1880.

Julia Dorsey (maiden name unknown) was born in Maryland in 1850. She married Ignatius Dorsey and together they lived in Hillsdale in Washington, DC. The Dorseys were listed among the "first Settlers of Barry Farm" with a lot on Sumner Ave. in Hillsdale. In 1880 Ignatius Dorsey purchased a lot of land on nearby Nicholas Avenue for $200 and built a two-story house. The couple had no children at this date; Julia Dorsey was recorded as keeping house, while her husband worked as a laborer.

It was in the Hillsdale neighborhood, now Anacostia, that the Dorseys befriended the Douglass family and came to support the woman suffrage movement. The three Douglass sons all purchased lots in Barry Farm, enabling them to live within a mile of their father, the notable slave runaway and abolitionist, Frederick Douglass. The area was once a white suburb known as Uniontown, but during and after the Civil War African Americans fleeing slavery settled in DC neighborhoods such as Hillsdale and created a community for newly freed African Americans. The Freedmen's Bureau facilitated this migration when it purchased the 375-acre Barry Farm in 1867 and divided it into 1-acre lots that the Bureau typically sold to free Blacks for extended payments of $10 a month.

We cannot find Julia or Ignatius Dorsey in the 1900 census, but Julia turns up as a 62-year-old widow in DC in 1910, renting rooms to five Black lodgers. Julia Dorsey died in February 1919 at age 68 years old at her home on 569 Stanton Road in Anacostia.


Petition for Woman Suffrage from Colored Men and Colored Women, Residents of the District of Columbia, ca. 1877 Accessible online at,writer%20after%20escaping%20from%20slavery.

"Two Petitions of Citizens of the District of Columbia," 16 February 1880, SEN 46A-H11.2, Box 179.

Williams, Lea Esther. Servants of the People: The 1960s Legacy of African American Leadership. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1996.

Federal manuscript censuses of the District of Columbia, 1880 and 1910. Accessed via

"Real Estate Estate Transfers." The Washington Post. June 1, 1880. Page 3.

"List of First Settlers of Barry Farm/Hillsdale, 1867-1871." 1981. History of Place research files, Anacostia Community Museum, Washington, D.C.

Appendix A. Instructions to Enumerators Concerning the Return of Occupations at the Censuses of 1870, 1880, 1890, and 1900; Page 2.

"Deaths Reported." The Washington Post. February 15, 1919. Page 12.

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