Colored Women's Republican Club, Paterson, NJ

Colored Women's Republican Club of Paterson, New Jersey

By George Robb, professor, William Paterson University, Wayne, New Jersey

Mary Green, Chair (1884-1957)
Retta Ramsey, Vice Chair (b. 1890)
Blanche Hogans, Treasurer (1883-1977)
Mary Woolridge, Recorder (b. 1881)
Helen Sandford, Assistant Recorder (b. 1895)
Lenora Willette, Corresponding Secretary (1900-1983)

The Colored Women's Republican Club of Paterson, New Jersey was organized in January 1922. In the years following the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920, many such clubs were established around the country to politically mobilize America's newly enfranchised black women. At this time most African Americans supported the Republican Party, which was then more supportive of civil rights than the Democrats. Nonetheless, even the Republicans in a northern state like New Jersey sponsored separate organizations for black and white women. For black women, one unintended advantage of this segregation was the opportunity to assume leadership positions, which probably would have been denied them had they been admitted into clubs dominated by white women. Little is known about the specific activities of the Colored Women's Republican Club of Paterson, but, like similar organizations at the time, it would have registered black women to vote, helped get out the African American vote on election days, and pressured the Republican Party to support greater racial equality.

The inaugural meeting of the Colored Women's Republican Club was held on January 21, 1922 at 313 Hamilton Ave. in downtown Paterson. The meeting was presided over by H. Blanche Harris of Newark, who had been a leading African American suffragist in New Jersey and was Vice Chair of the Colored Republican State Committee. Officers were elected and the club was officially recognized by the Passaic County Republican Party Chairman, Fred Van Blarcom.

Few specific biographical details have survived about the officers of Paterson's Colored Women's Republican Club, though collectively the women had much in common. They were only one generation removed from slavery. Most of the women had been born in the South in the late 1800s and had moved north to Paterson in the early 20th century as part of the Great Migration of African Americans seeking better economic opportunities. They were neighbors of each other in Paterson's 4th and 5th Wards, just north of downtown.

Mary Green was born in North Carolina in 1884. Her husband, Stephen Green, a factory worker, had been born in Maryland in 1864. The couple met in Paterson after their families moved north. Retta Ramsey was born in Summerville, South Carolina in 1890, the fifth of nine children of former slaves, Cuzzo, a carpenter, and Patsie, a cook. In 1922 Retta married Edward Ramsey, a chauffeur and World War I veteran who had been born in Virginia. Blanche Pease was born in Raleigh, North Carolina in 1883. Although her parents had been born into slavery, her father was now a postal clerk and her mother a school teacher. In 1904 Blanche married Garland Hogans and the couple moved to Paterson, where Garland worked as a waiter. The Hogans had two children, Grace (b. 1907) and William (b.1910). Mary Woolridge was born in Pennsylvania in 1881. She worked as a laundress in Paterson before her marriage to Charles Woolridge, a barber from Virginia. The couple had one child, Edwin (b. 1903). Helen Sandford was born in Florida in 1895. In Paterson she worked as a laundress and her husband, Garrison, was a chauffeur. Lenora Willette was born in South Carolina in 1900. Her husband Lawrence was born in Kentucky and worked as a clerk for the Post Office. The Willettes had six children: Lawrence, Jr. (b. 1920), Leonard (b. 1922), Carmen (b. 1924), Naida (b. 1926), Eric (b. 1929), and Glen (b. 1931).

When the Colored Women's Republican Club was founded in Paterson in 1922, most of the six officers were in their 30s. Only one of them worked for wages outside the home and three of them had no children. These circumstances probably gave the women more time to devote to political activity. Several of the women were also members of Paterson's Colored Women's Civic Organization. In 1924 they helped organize public meetings for Republican candidate Hamilton Kean's campaign for the United States Senate.

Many of these women were active in their local churches and fraternal lodges. Mary Green organized events at Paterson's A.M.E. Zion Church, and Blanche Hogans was an officer in the Colored Oddfellows Lodge. Some of the women were much in demand as speakers and performers. In November 1922, Retta Ramsey spoke out against segregation at a Republican campaign rally in Paterson. In June 1922, Lenora Willette directed and starred in a comic play, A Kentucky Belle, to raise money for a colored nursery school. In the summer of 1936, Blanche Hogans participated in a WPA pageant, The Awakening, about the history of African Americans in the United States.

Little is known about the six women's later years, though future research might uncover more information. They were certainly pioneers in the 20th-century struggle for civil rights. However circumscribed their lives were in Paterson as black women and the wives of laborers, they were able to vote and to organize politically, rights mostly denied African Americans in the Jim Crow South until the 1960s.


"Colored Women Install Officers," Paterson Morning Call, 31 January 1922, p.7.

United States Census Returns, 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930

New Jersey State Census, 1915

"Colored Women Form Auxiliary," Paterson Morning Call, 25 August 1920, p.14.

"Cast Presents Kentucky Belle," Paterson Morning Call, 17 June 1922, p.18.

"Negro Voters Hear Speakers," Paterson Morning Call, 2 November 1922, p.16.

"Negroes to Hold Meeting for Kean's Candidacy," Paterson Morning Call, 29 August 1924, p.2.

"Colored I.O.O.F. to Convene Here," Paterson Morning Call, 2 August 1929, p.2.

"Negro Historical Pageant Delights Audience of 2,000," Paterson Morning Call, 3 July 1936, p.3.

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