Biographical Database of Militant Woman Suffragists, 1913-1920
Biography of Willie Grace Johnson, 1879-1952
By Thomas Dublin, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, SUNY Binghamton
Willie Grace Johnson was born in 1879 in Terrell, Texas, the daughter of William Henry Johnson and Annie Grace Randall Johnson. She attended the Hollins Institute in Virginia in 1896, and the census in 1900 found her in Shreveport, 21 years old, living with her parents, grandmother, and five siblings.
Willie Grace (sometimes recorded in the census as Gracie or Grace) continued to live in Shreveport until her death. She did not marry and was never recorded in censuses as having an occupation. In 1910 she lived with an aunt and uncle and her grandmother. In 1920, she was listed as the head of her household with a 13-year-old ward; in 1930 she continued to head her household and lived with an adopted daughter and a roomer. At that date she owned her home, valued at $5,500. A local newspaper in 1919 described her as "a member of a prominent Shreveport family and well known in society circles."
To the Shreveport Times (26 Feb. 1919) she recounted her experience picketing in front of the White House in support of the Nineteenth Amendment with other National Woman's Party activists. She noted her motivation: "I went to Washington to protest against the leader of the administration [Woodrow Wilson] going abroad to spread the gospel of democracy while leaving twenty [million] of the women in the country [disenfranchised], and in so doing to place the responsibility upon the leader of the party for the failure of the passage of the Anthony amendment."
Johnson joined the Watchfire demonstrations at the White House. She lighted her "watch fire of freedom" and was arrested along with 64 other protestors. She was charged with "lighting a fire after sunset upon a government [property" and was sentenced to pay a $5 fine or "spend five days in jail." Along with the other defendants, she refused "to pay the fine" and served her sentence in the DC workhouse. She went on a hunger strike in the workhouse and drank only water. When she was discharged, she joined the "prison special," a train of NWP supporters who had been jailed for their protests. Johnson and others spoke to the public at various stops along the route and Johnson got off the train in New Orleans and returned to Shreveport.
The next year, Johnson went to Baton Rouge to lobby for the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which Louisiana did not do until 1970. In 1921 Johnson joined other National Woman's Party supporters in proposing Louisiana legislation that "would grant women the same suffrage rights and privileges as men, also the same privileges as to holding office and disposing of separate property."
Willie Grace Johnson passed away in Shreveport in March 1952.
Federal Manuscript censuses of Shreveport, 1900-1930. Accessed online in the Ancestry Library Edition. Households of Wille Grace Johnson.
Find-a-Grave death listing for Willie Grace Johnson, including a lengthy obituary.
Willie Grace Johnson, passport application, July 31, 1917, in anticipation of a trip to Japan and China.
"Detailed Chronoloogy National Woman's Party History," online at the Library of Congress website, -- https://www.loc.gov/static/collections/women-of-protest/images/detchron.pdf.
"Shreveport Woman Is among Those in Jail at National Capital," Shreveport Journal, 11 February 1919, p. 1.
"Suffragists Off in 'Prison Special,'" New York Times, 16 Feb. 1919.
"Returns Home After Exciting Trip to Capital," Shreveport Times, 26 February 1919, p. 16--account of WGJ's DC picketing.