Rosebud Douglass Aggrey


Biographical Database of Black Women Suffragists

Biography of Rosebud Douglass Aggrey, 1882-1961

By Keri Graham, Faculty, Saint Martin's University, Lacey WA

Rosebud (Rudolf) Douglass was born May 27, 1882 in Portsmouth, Virginia to Walter and Martha Ann (Bell) Douglass. Family legend and historian, Nadia Orton, note that they were related to Frederick Douglass, but kinship was believed to be one of brotherly bond rather than blood.

The Douglass family was an established Black family of means in Virginia. Rose attended Chestnutt Street Academy in Portsmouth, and she received a Bachelor's degree from Shaw University in North Carolina (1902). Rose was also a member of good standing in the Zeta Phi Beta sorority.

Rose Douglass went on to have a career as an educator and an administrator in North Carolina. She taught at Livingstone College, a historically black college in Salisbury, NC, where she met her future husband, Dr. James Emman Kwegy Aggrey (1875-1927), an immigrant from the Gold Coast, taught by British missionaries, who came to the United States to complete his education. The couple married in 1905. Dr. Aggrey earned a master's degree from Livingstone College and a Doctor of Divinity from Hood Theological Seminary. He was also the only Black member of the Phelps-Stokes Commission on education in Africa. He was well known for his activism and continues to be part of the North Carolina school curriculum.

Rose took graduate courses at Columbia University in New York while her husband was defending his dissertation. Rose was a poet, and in 1917 she won an award for a poem in Raleigh.

James and Rose had four children, two sons and two daughters. Their son, Orion Rudolf Aggrey (1926-2016), later became a diplomat,

Rose Aggrey continued an impressive career as a Jeanes teacher in Rowan County, North Carolina. Jeanes teachers, partially funded with foundation support, played a critical role in the improvement of public education for Blacks in the South. Historian Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore describes Rose as a "poet and classical scholar" in her book, Gender and Jim Crow. She also noted that Aggrey served as president of the statewide Federation of Colored Women's Clubs.

Rose served as president of the Salisbury Colored Women's Club--a branch of the National Association of Colored Women (NACW)-- in 1908 and 1909. Rose was also a member of the Salisbury Colored Women's Civic League in 1913. We don't find a firm suffrage connection in contemporary primary sources, but we know from an interview with her daughter, Abna Aggrey Lancaster, that Rose read The Crisis in this period. We also know from the work of Glenda Gilmore that the Salisbury Civic League launched a sophisticated, largely secret voter registration campaign in the fall of 1920 that managed to register significant numbers of both Black men and women despite white registrars' concerted efforts to use literacy tests to block significant Black voter registration. Rose Aggrey was no doubt active in that campaign. Gilmore concludes about these efforts: "The number of black women who voted in 1920 may have been small, but their significance in the state's racial politics was large. For the first time since 1896 black voters approached the registrars en masse. They assembled as the result of a coordinated subversive campaign, a gendered attack on gender-based white supremacy. By their presence at the polls, black women dared whites to use violence and won the dare. When turned away, African American women refused to keep quiet, enlisted outside help, and sought to inspire their communities to greater activism."

At the same time that Rose Aggrey was engaged in women's voter registration efforts in North Carolina, her husband joined a group sponsored by the Phelps Stokes Fund to study African educational practices. Based on this work he subsequently served for three years as the First Vice Principal of Achimoto College in the Gold Coast. Rose remained in North Carolina and became active in the Woman's Home and Missionary Society of the AME Zion Church and became a strong advocate for increased public funding for Black schools.

Aggrey persisted as a local leader well after the initial suffrage efforts following passage of the 19th Amendment. Rose was also elected as the President of the North Carolina Negro Teachers Association in 1939. From 1953-1957 she served as the President of the North Carolina Federation of Colored Women's Clubs. The club's motto was "Uplift Colored Women."

Rose was widowed in 1927 when Dr. Aggrey caught a fever in New York. In 1958 Rose was honored for her profound contribution to the teaching community with a dormitory at the Morrison Training School, in Hoffman, North Carolina, dedicated in her name. Rose continued to live in Salisbury until her death in 1961.


Rose Aggrey, ca. 1913. College Archives, Carnegie Library
Livingstone College, Salisbury, NC


"Along the Color Line." The Crisis, Vol. 11 No. 1, Nov. 1915, p. 9.

Brown, Reginald W, and Terry Holt. "Rowan County History Timeline 1900 to 2006."

Death 25 Sep 1961- NC State Archives. North Carolina Deaths, 1908-67

Fiftieth Anniversary Convention of the North Carolina Federation of Negro Women's Clubs. Program. May 16. 1959. Gazella Poole Lipscomb Collection. North Carolina Central University.

"For Colored Women: Mrs. Aggrey's Great Work" Salisbury Evening Post. Salisbury, North Carolina. March 19, 1909. Page 2.

Gilmore, Glenda Elizabeth. Gender and Jim Crow: Women and the Politics of White Supremacy in North Carolina, 1896-1920. The University of North Carolina Press, 1996, pp. 218-24.

Hill, R. & King, P. (1991). "Black Women Oral History Project Interviews, 1976-1981". Radcliffe Institute for Study Harvard University. Interview of Abna Aggrey Lancaster, daughter of Rose Aggrey. Accessible online at

"Meeting of Society Formed For Uplift of Colored Women" Salisbury Evening Post. Salisbury, North Carolina. March 18. 1919. Page 2.

"Mrs. Aggrey Honored" Salisbury Evening Post. Salisbury, North Carolina, May 11, 1917. Page


"New About Negroes" Rocky Mount Telegram. Rocky Mount, North Caroline. April 15, 1956. Page 8.

"New Aggrey Dormitory Dedicated at Hoffman" North Carolina Federation of Negro Women's Club Journal. March 1, 1958.

Year: 1940; Census Place: Salisbury, Rowan, North Carolina; Roll: m-t0627-02969; Page: 6A; Enumeration District: 80-30B

North Carolina Historical Marker Program. J. E. K. AGGREY (1875-1927) ROSE D. AGGREY (1882-1961)

North Carolina State Archives; Raleigh, North Carolina; North Carolina Death Certificates

Orton, Nadia. "Portsmouth, Virginia: The life and death of Rosebud Rudolph Douglass Aggrey" Norfolk Journal and Guide.

Palmer, Elliot B. "NCTA Souvenir Booklet." Hammocks Beach Corporation, June 1970.

"President Receives Citations at Shaw University in May."North Carolina Federation of Negro Women's Clubs Journal. Fall Vol 14 1956

Rountree, Louise Marie. "An Historic Chronology of Black Salisbury-Rowan." 1976.

Sunday, Elizabeth. (2017) "Walter E. Douglass: b. 1850"

Thuesen, Sarah Caroline. GREATER THAN EQUAL: African American Struggles for Schools and Citizenship in North Carolina, 1919-1965. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2019.

"Uplift Colored Women," The Courier. Asheboro, North Carolina, 1 April 1909.

Wilson, Walter. A Syllabus for Selective Writings by W.E.B Du Bois. Columbia University. New York.

"Women's Club in Salisbury," The New York Age. New York, New York. October 15, 1908. Page 1.

Year: 1926; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Microfilm Roll: Roll 3844; Line: 9; Page Number: 42 - PTA donation


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