Mae E. Proffitt Bentley

Biographical Database of Black Woman Suffragists

Biography of Mae E. Proffitt Bentley, 1887-1971

By Lily Truppi and Sacha Cottineau, Undergraduates, University of Rhode Island.

Mae Ethel Profitt was born in East Greenwich, Rhode Island on December 18, 1887. She was the daughter of Frank and Alice F. Proffitt. The 1940 federal census indicates that she had studied up to the eighth grade. Although Providence schools were desegregated in the 1860s, it still was a remarkable achievement for the era and especially as a Black girl. Mae was a very talented singer. In 1906, at the age of 21 and working as a waitress, she married William Henry Bentley in a ceremony in Attleboro, Massachusetts, officiated by Baptist minister William Taylor. Mr. and Mrs. Bentley later had a daughter named Minnie M. Bentley, as well as then caring for their nieces, Ruth and Florence Harris. Mae was the younger half-sister of Lucy Proffitt Johnson , another suffrage activist. Multiple census records indicated Mrs. Bentley was a stewardess, dietician, and dressmaker. Another source reported she was employed by an "art club" which could be connected to the Providence Art Club or the Phyllis Wheatley Art Club.

Mrs. Bentley was also involved in the Rhode Island Union of Colored Women's Clubs, where she worked closely alongside well-known black suffragist Mary E. Jackson. An early 1920s article from one of the most prominent Black newspapers, the New York Age, stated that Mrs. Bentley had been in charge of the music for an Easter mass service at the Pond Street Baptist Church, a very active Black suffrage meeting location, in Providence. The musical ability to supervise the musicians would suggest she was quite talented.

Another early 1920s report from the New York Age stated that Mae Bentley sang at the funeral of Mary E. Jackson on May 19, 1923. Mrs. Bentley and Mrs. Jackson were known for their close friendship and dedication to the Black suffrage movement in Rhode Island, as mentioned in Mrs. Jackson's obituary. Mrs. Bentley continued her work after the passing of Mrs. Jackson. She became a delegate for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (N.A.A.C.P.). On September 13, 1924, the 16 representatives were supposed to meet, but Mrs. Bentley was confined to her home due to illness. Mrs. Bentley dedicated her life's work to benefit the suffrage movement, as well as the rights and advancement of Black citizens. Mrs. Bentley passed away in August of 1971 at the age of 83. She was laid to rest in her hometown of East Greenwich, Rhode Island, alongside her husband, and the tomb is engraved with her maiden name: "Mae E. Profitt."


New York Age, 19 May 1923, p. 1.

New York Age, 13 Sept. 1924, p. 8.

New York Age, 28 July 1923, p. 5.

New York Age, 31 Mar. 1923, p. 3.

Hartford Courant, 26 August 1959, p. 6. "Mrs. Lucy Johnson."

Providence Journal, August 11, 1971, p. 24, "Death Notices: Bentley, Mae E. (Prophet)"

"Rhode Island, State Censuses, 1865-1935 for Mae E Bentley,"
1920 Federal Census Record, "Minnie M. Bentley",
Massachusetts, U.S., Marriage Records, 1840-1915, "May Ethel Proffitt,"

Lee, Maureen D. Sissieretta Jones: The Greatest Singer of her Race, 1868-1933. (University of South Carolina Press, 2012). Chapter Five, "Rhode Island", p. 5

RI Union of Colored Women's Clubs, suffrage petition accessible at

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