Mary E. Ford Lysbey


Biographical Database of Black Women Suffragists

Biographies of Mary E. Ford Lysbey, 1860-1955, and Madelyn Mary Lysbey, 1900-?


By Emma Hayes, undergraduate, University of Rhode Island

Mary E. Lysbey and her sixteen-year-old daughter Madelyn (Madeline) Lysbey signed the woman suffrage petition from the R.I. Women's Colored Club in 1916. Mary E. Lysbey and her daughter were active members of Pawtucket's Union Baptist Church. Mother and daughter were close friends with Reverend George E. Hughes who also gave sermons at Union Baptist and Congdon Street Baptist Church in Providence where the resolution was signed.

Mary E Ford was born in 1860 in Charles County, Maryland, the daughter of John E. and Emily (Dotson) Ford. It is difficult to ascertain if she was the descendant of slaves or born into slavery herself. Although Maryland had a high rate of freed African Americans--Baltimore had the highest population of Free Blacks in the nation prior to the Civil War--it did not officially abolish slavery until 1864. Maryland, despite being part of the Union, was heavily dependent on slave labor in the tobacco plantations in its southern counties, including Charles County. However, since her parents are listed on her birth record, it's probable that she was born into a free family. She did not go to school and in state census records throughout her life she is listed as illiterate. Given the historical context, we can gather what her childhood was shaped by.

Mary E. Lysbey was married to William Andrew Lysbey. William was also born in Maryland in 1860. It is very probable Mary, William, and Madelyn came to Rhode Island just before 1910, which is when we first see directory listings for William as a porter. The 1910 census for Pawtucket lists William A. as a laborer in a cotton mill and his wife as Magy. They had been married for 21 years and their daughter is listed as Mary, 12 years old and born in Maryland.

Madelyn Mary Lysbey married Louis William Adams, a Providence janitor born in Washington D.C. in January 1921. This was most likely a short-lived marriage as Louis is listed in the 1925 Rhode Island state census as living with his mother and stepfather and Madelyn is listed as living with her parents at 4 Pinegrove Street. In an April 1930 Howard Institution Hospital census, Madelyn is listed as divorced and a resident of the mental health facility located near Cranston, Rhode Island. Madelyn goes by her maiden name in both these censuses.

Mary E. Lysbey was active in her community. She was a member with her daughter of the Ladies Sewing Circle of Union Church at Pawtucket. The Providence Journal published an article in May 1930 celebrating the club's 20th anniversary. The Sewing Club was founded in 1910 by the late Reverend George E. Hughes of Pawtucket (who occasionally preached at Congdon St. Baptist). At the time of the article, the club had 22 members and Mary E. Lysbey was the club assistant treasurer.

Mary E. Lysbey and her husband lived for many decades in a home they eventually owned at 4 Pinegrove St. in Pawtucket. They were right across the street from niece Mary J. Bradley and her husband, Benjamin Bradley. Their street was also just a block from Enoch and Sarah Allen's house on Oregon Avenue. Enoch Allen was a strong pillar in the Pawtucket Black community—he was active in Union Baptist Church and supported Black newspaper journalism and the NAACP. Allen owned an express truck hauling business that was quite lucrative, allowing him to own his home and purchase a very nice gravestone in Walnut Hill Cemetery, close to the Union Baptist Church in Pawtucket. He and his wife listed Mary and William Lysbey on the gravestone as well. This type of burial help was common in African American churches and mutual aid societies.

Young Madelyn Lysbey was also a member of the R.I. Women's Colored Club. At the 12th Annual Conference of the Rhode Island Union of Colored Women's Clubs, she spoke at a Temperance Symposium, along with other teenagers Miss Deon Jackson and Miss Edith Birth. The temperance movement was also very popular at the time of the suffrage movement.

Mary E. Lysbey's husband, William, was also active in clubs. He was a member of the United Order of the True Reformers. True Reformers were an African American fraternal organization. The club aimed to give men a community and grow a Black middle class that had successful businesses. In February 1902, the club had a gathering titled, "Harvest Social." The evening was accompanied by Lysbey family friends and included music from a Mozart Orchestra and vocalists. William Lysbey passed away in 1942.

Mary Lysbey passed away on December 14, 1955 at the age of 95. We have no record of daughter Madelyn Lysbey's passing or if she remarried. Mary and William Lysbey are buried together in Pawtucket's Walnut Hill cemetery under the same gravestone as their good friends, Enoch and Sarah Allen.


Encyclopedia of Virginia. Accessible online at

A Guide to the History of Slavery in Maryland. (n.d.). Retrieved 2020, from

"Marriage Licences," Evening Bulletin, Jan 22, 1921, 4.
(, Mary E Lysbey, Ward 3, Pawtucket, Pawtucket City, Providence, Rhode Island, United States.

"United States Census, 1940,"
(, William A Lysbey

(1902, February 22). Providence Journal, p. 5.

(1915, October 10). Providence Journal, p. 44.

(1921, January 23). Providence Journal, p. 3.

(1930, May 28). Providence Journal, p. 19.

(1953, March 31). Providence Journal, p. 4.

(1955, December 16). Providence Journal, p. 4.

(1955, December 16). Providence Journal, p. 24.

Resolution of the R.I. Union Colored Women's Clubs Supporting the Federal Woman Suffrage Amendment; 1916.

Find-a grave death record for Enoch Allen. Accessible online at


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