Ida Delia (Pelkey) Lewis

Biographical Database of Black Women Suffragists

Biography of Ida Delia (Pelkey) Lewis, 1864-1913

By Nancy Cole, retired librarian

Ida Delia Pelkey was born January 1, 1864 in Crawfordsville, Indiana. When she was six, the family moved to Winona, Minnesota. The 1870 federal census noted that her father, Thornton Pelkey, worked as a restaurant cook and her mother Mary Ann was reported as "keeping house." According to the 1880 census, eighteen-old Ida lived at home and worked as a "servant." At that point she had six younger sisters.

One source notes she attended the Winona Normal School, the first in Minnesota that trained students to be elementary teachers. There is no record, however, that se worked as a teacher, so this information awaits further confirmation.

In 1884 she married Payton G. Lewis. He was born in Virginia and they made their home in Chicago, where the 1900 federal census noted they lived with their two sons, Lawrence, 15, and Lloyd, 9. Payton's occupation was given as a shipping clerk and in the 1910 census as an apartment house janitor. Ida worked in a millinery store according to the 1910 census.

Ida was active for decades in social issues and women's club activities, including founding a home for homeless Black girls, which was later merged with the Amanda Smith Industrial Home for Colored Orphans, located in Harvey, Illinois. She organized the West Side Women's Club sometime around 1910, which became one of the largest of the many African American women's clubs in the city. (There were already nine in Chicago in 1900 at the time of the first convention of the Illinois State Federation of Colored Women's Clubs.)

At the 1910 annual convention of the state federation, Ida was elected State Organizer. In 1912 she was elected president of the state federation. She also continued to serve as president of the West Side Women's Club.

Ida belonged to the Household of Ruth, a women's auxiliary of the predominantly Black Grand United Order of Odd Fellows. And she was a member of the Old Settlers Social Club, an exclusive group of African Americans that formed in response to the Great Migration of Blacks to Chicago and other northern cities, fleeing from the Jim Crow southern states. Membership in the Chicago social club, which formed early in the migration in 1904, required proof that the families of its members had lived in Chicago for 30 or more years.

A limited suffrage bill for Illinois women passed in June 1913, and Ida joined a July 1 celebratory automobile parade in Chicago as part of a contingent organized by the Alpha Suffrage Club.

At the August 1913 annual meeting of the state federation, 111 delegates representing 17 towns and cities in the state met in Springfield, and Ida as president delivered the opening address. A representative of the Alpha Suffrage Club led a discussion on suffrage, and Ida was reelected president of the state group.

That conference also heard from representatives of the Illinois commission for "the national celebration of the half century of negro freedom" appointed by the governor to take place in the summer of 1915. Mary F. Waring, chair of the state federation's executive board, gave the group's response.

"For more than 400 years the colored people were taught to bow to the white man, to do his bidding, morally and physically," several news accounts reported she said. "In spite of this, such men as Crispus Attucks of Massachusetts, Nat Turner of Virginia, and others whose names do not appear in the white man's history struck for protection and liberty long before Abraham Lincoln was sent by a higher power to liberate our race.

"Now, in the exposition of 1915, we will have the opportunity of showing the world the products of the civilization of the most rapidly developed people ever set free from bondage...Let us move as one black cloud toward this great movement wherever it is held."

Three months later, on November 18, 1913, Ida died after one week's illness. She was not yet 50 years old. "Two thousand people, representing city and state federations of colored women's clubs, pay the last tribute," reported one newspaper. "There were so many letters and telegrams of condolence that only a few could be read," reported the Chicago Tribune.


Alpha Suffrage Club. Chicago Defender, 1913, July 5, p. 1. United States Federal Manuscript Censuses. Winona, Minnesota, 1870, 1880, Pelkey family; Chicago, Illinois, 1900, 1910, Lewis family.

Chicago: Old Settlers. DuSable to Obama: Chicago's Black Metropolis. WTTW.

Colored women of state gather. The Ashton Gazette (Illinois), 1913, August 28, p. 2.

Colored women to meet. The Inter Ocean (Chicago), 1900, October 21, p.5

Davis, Elizabeth L. The Story of the Illinois Federation of Colored Women's Clubs, 1900-1922 (Chicago).

Funeral of Mrs. Ida D. Lewis: Crowds attend last rites over body of woman active in bettering conditions of her race. Chicago Tribune, 1913, November 25, p. 15.

Funeral of Mrs. Ida D. Lewis. The Broad Ax (Chicago), 1913, November 29.

Interesting meeting of the State Federation of Women's Clubs. The Broad Ax (Chicago), 1910, August 27.

Late Mrs. I.D. Lewis honored. The Inter Ocean (Chicago), 1913, November 25, p. 10.

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