Lula Marie Spaulding Kelsey

Biographical Database of Black Woman Suffragists

Biography of Lula Marie Spaulding Kelsey, 1881-1947

By Nancy Cole, retired librarian

Lula Marie Spaulding was born in Columbus County, North Carolina, on August 28, 1881. She was the only child of John Andrew Spaulding and Lucy Ann Sampson. Lucy Sampson was a Lumbee Indian and John Spaulding was African American and known as "freeish," a local term for Blacks whose ancestors were born free during slavery. (At the time of the 1860 federal census, there were more than 30,000 free African Americans in North Carolina, although there were 330,000 enslaved.)

Lula attended normal school in Wilmington and then went on to Scotia Seminary in Concord for two more years. Scotia Seminary was a Presbyterian school established for young, newly freed African American women, preparing them to become teachers, social workers, and members of other professions. After graduation, Lula began teaching at the school.

Her parents had moved to Salisbury where her father established an office of North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company. When her mother's health failed and her father began to go blind, Lula moved to Salisbury to care for her parents and take over her father's business. There she met William F. Kelsey and they married in 1907.

William was a barber by trade but had part ownership of a funeral home as a sideline. Lula took that on and became one of the first female licensed morticians in the state.

Lula was a prominent businesswoman in Salisbury – she eventually owned and operated three funeral homes in the state -- and a leader in the African American community. She gave birth to eight children, seven of whom lived to adulthood.

She was commissioned as a notary of the public in 1923, in a state where its Supreme Court had ruled women notaries unconstitutional in 1915.

Lula was the founder and president of the Salisbury Colored Women's Civic League in 1913 and led the organization for at least two decades. According to one news account in 1914, the Salisbury League had a membership at-large of 400 and a dues-paying membership of 40.

The Salisbury Evening Post described the work of the African American women's clubs across the state as "social uplift among their own people and the promotion of better race relationship in the communities in which they operate." The Salisbury League conducted community clean-up drives, vegetable and flower planting,

and organized educational campaigns about sanitation. Lula became an unpaid social worker for the Associated Charities, performing home studies of African American applicants.

Two days before the Nineteenth Amendment was officially ratified, on August 24, 1920, the Salisbury Colored Women's League changed its name to the Negro Women's Civic League and established a suffrage department.

When voter registration began in October of 1920, the Salisbury League was instructed by statewide leaders to wait until the last two Saturdays of voter registration to catch the registrars by surprise. "The Civic League asked ministers to discuss woman suffrage from their pulpits on Sunday," wrote Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore in Gender and Jim Crow. "On Monday, women ward bosses, turning to the organizational structure they had built for cleanup days and Associated Charities drives, simultaneously held four citywide meetings." Meetings continued across the city until the next to last Saturday of the registration period when African American women in Salisbury and across the state marched together to the registrars.

"White Democrats, who had manipulated so cavalierly the threat of black women voters, stood by incredulously on that day as black women passed the literacy test and entered their names on the books."

Lula served as president of the State Federation of Negro Women's Clubs from 1942-46. In 1944 the governor of North Carolina appointed a commission of five to organize a "training school for negro delinquent girls." One of the appointments was Lula – the only woman.

Lula Kelsey died in Salisbury on April 9, 1947. In addition to the presidency of the State Federation of Negro Women's Clubs, her obituary noted she was president of the Auxiliary of the State Negro Funeral Directors Association and a member of the State Interracial Commission.

Sources Marriage record for Lula Spaulding and William Kelsey, 12/25/1907 United States Federal Census. Welches Creek, North Carolina, 1900, Spaulding family; Salisbury, NC, 1910, 1920, 1930, 1940, Kelsey family.

Gilmore, Elizabeth G. Gender and Jim Crow: Women and the Politics of White Supremacy in North Carolina, 1896-1920 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996).

Governor commissions new batch of notaries. The Charlotte Observer (North Carolina), 1923, November 25, p. 32.

Mrs. Lula S. Kelsey of Salisbury dies. Rocky Mount Telegram (North Carolina), 1947, April 9, p. 12.




Notes about club women of North Carolina. Everything (Greensboro, North Carolina), 1914, August 8, p. 7.

Request from Colored League. Salisbury Evening Post (North Carolina), 1914, October 12, p. 4.

State Federation of Colored Women. Salisbury Evening Post (North Carolina), 1920, July 7, p. 2.

Training school opened for Negro delinquents. Statesville Daily Record (North Carolina), 1944, September 29, p. 8.

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