Louisa C. (Hatton) Crawford Butler


Biographical Database of Black Woman Suffragists

Biography of Louisa C. (Hatton) Crawford Butler, 1832-1882

By Blake Wintory, Ph.D., Independent Scholar

Louisa C. Butler, an African-American suffragist, was born Louisa C. Hatton about 1832 in Hagerstown, Washington County, Maryland. It is not clear if she was born free or enslaved. While free black individuals with the surname Hatton were living in the area, many families stretched across freedom and slavery. Louisa was the oldest child with at least two siblings: Mary Jane (Hatton) Williams (born ca. 1835) and Richard W. Hatton (born ca. 1843). The 1880 U.S. Census lists Louisa’s parents as born in Maryland, while her sister’s record lists her father as born in England and mother born in Maryland.

Later records suggest Louisa married a man with the surname Crawford in 1852, but little is known about this union. In 1858, at the port of Philadelphia, under the name Louisa C. Crawford, she registered her citizenship, listing her occupation as a ship stewardess. Philadelphia, a magnet for freedom seekers enslaved in western Maryland, was the location of her sister’s and brother’s marriages at the Philadelphia Monthly Meeting in 1860 and 1865. There also seems to have been a maritime tradition in the family: Louisa’s brother and brother-in-law, Andrew G. Williams, served in the Union Navy during the Civil War.

By 1866, Louisa had moved to Washington, D.C. One city directory lists her as working at or owning a confectionery. On May 16, 1867, she married John H. Butler at St. Matthew’s Parsonage. Butler, employed by Secretary of State William Henry Seward, also held a position as messenger in the Treasury Department. In late 1871, Louisa opened the Eureka Employment Office. An advertisement in the New National Era, a publication she also was an agent for, read: “Mrs. Louise C. Butler has opened an Employment Office at 507 Eleventh street, between E and F, for the purpose of supplying families &c, with first-class servants of every description, male and female. Parties wishing employment will please apply above, either in person or by letter.”

Louisa made friends with abolitionists and suffragists like Julia Wilbur and Eliza J. Anderson. Wilbur, in a diary entry on December 3, 1867, described her friend as “an elegant woman” who is “intelligent & refined.” Following the success of black male suffrage in D.C. in the spring of 1867, the Universal Franchise Association formed with the goal of achieving women’s right to vote. In the spring of 1869, activist Josephine Griffing encouraged women in the city to register to vote in the municipal elections. On April 22, Louisa C. Butler and a group that included Eliza J. Anderson, and two white friends, Julia Wilbur and Sarah Evans, met for dinner and then signed a voter petition. The petition, printed in the National Republican, was addressed to the “Judges of Election of the City of Washington”: “We request that our names be placed on the list of qualified voters therein which you are engaged in preparing. We know that it is unusual for those of our sex to make such a request. We do so because we believe ourselves entitled to the franchise. . . We do not know that any law expressly forbids you to comply with our request. If such there be[,] we hereby solemnly protest against an exclusion from the highest privilege of American citizenship, to which our consent has never been asked.”

Wilbur, Butler, and another woman presented the petition to the election judges at the First Ward firehouse and departed without incident. While their request had little effect, Wilbur wrote, “It is hoped that ladies in every Ward will do the same that it may be apparent the women do wish to vote. I am convinced that when a sufficient number ask for the suffrage they will get it.” On October 21, in a show of their continued efforts in the movement, Wilbur delivered “Women’s Rights documents” to Butler.

Louisa’s interest in women’s suffrage continued after her attempt to vote. In January 1874 Louisa “stayed away from meetings [of the National Woman Suffrage Association] where speakers insulted blacks from the dais.” We know about this incident because Julia Wilbur spoke to Susan B. Anthony about it and recorded her concern in her diary.

Louisa’s brother, Richard W. Hatton, died on June 7, 1876. During the Civil War, Richard survived the sinking of the USS Hatteras in January 1863 by the CSS Alabama and subsequent capture by the Confederate Navy. After the war, he married Lydia Durham in Philadelphia on April 5, 1865. The couple moved to Washington, D.C into Louisa’s home and Richard worked as a barber. In their eleven years of marriage, Richard fathered five children with Lydia, including Andrew C. Hatton, born a month after his father’s death. With Lydia grieving the loss of her husband and taking care of a newborn, Richard’s sisters each took guardianship of two children. With Mary Jane in San Francisco went Richard Jr. and John Hatton; and with Louisa went Lula M. and Willie J. Hatton.

In August 1877, Louisa’s marriage to John H. Butler ended. Mrs. Butler filed for divorce in May and Mr. Butler countered with a request to annul on the grounds that Mrs. Butler’s first husband was still living and they were not divorced when he married her. It is not clear if this allegation was true, but the next year Louisa began using her maiden name “Hatton” in advertisements for her business.

In September 1878, Louisa made a farewell visit to Maria W. Stewart, matron of the Freedmen's Bureau Hospital, as Louisa planned to move to Boston, Massachusetts. Stewart, who was widowed in Boston in 1829, asked for Louisa’s assistance in obtaining documents and affidavits for her widow’s pension application. In Boston, Louisa “made frequent visits to different courts” for records and located four reliable witnesses among “the oldest citizens of color in Boston.” She dispatched the records to Washington, D.C. and the Pension Office granted Mrs. Stewart her pension. Stewart used the money to republish her speeches and essays as Meditations From the Pen of Mrs. Maria W. Stewart (1879). Included in the volume is a "Biographical Sketch" of Stewart by Louise C. Hatton.

In Boston, Louisa continued to operate the Eureka Employment Office. In 1880, she lived with her fourteen-year-old niece, Lula, who attended school, and her five-year-old nephew, Willie. On February 8, 1882, Louisa Hatton died of cerebral disease at Boston’s City Hospital. Lula, died of tuberculosis in May and was buried at Mount Hope Cemetery in Boston. Willie may have gone to live with this aunt in California, but he had passed by 1903, according to his mother.


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