Biographical Database of Black Woman Suffragists

Biography of Nellie C. Penick, 1887-1960

By Amy Hobbs Harris, Professor of English, Central (OH) State University

Nellie C. Johnson was born in New Jersey around 1887. Her father, Edward Walker Johnson, was born in Virginia and passed away in Camden, New Jersey in 1928. He left his estate, valued at $1,000 to Nellie's mother, Elvira Johnson. Nellie had at least four siblings: Frederick, Rosabel, Irene, and Marion. Nellie married James A Penick about 1905.

James Penick was born about 1878 in Virginia. Their son, James C Penick, was born in 1906. In 1910, the family lived at 2013 S. Tenth Street in the 8th Ward of Camden, New Jersey. Penick was a factory laborer. Their daughter, Pearl, was born in 1913. By 1920, the family had bought a home at 2152 S. Tenth Street, and James was employed as a retail merchant for Kindly Wood.

Nellie Penick's documented political activity was for the Republican party in the 1920s. She served as a member of the hospitality committee for the statewide Woman's State Republican Club, which held a convention at the Y.W.C.A. in Camden March 23, 1922. The meeting was the last of a series of five public forums held across the state. The event had a luncheon with reservations for two hundred people and a forum open to the public, which was attended by approximately four hundred women. The organizers emphasized that the event was bi-partisan with speakers from both political parties. Noted speakers included Harriet Taylor Upton, the vice-chairmen of the Republican National Executive Committee, and F.W. Van Ness, a former assemblywoman from Essex county, New Jersey, and author of the Van Ness Prohibition Enforcement Act. An article in the Camden Courier-Post, emphasized the "'all-year-round responsibility" of women's political clubs in contrast to men's clubs where men gathered primarily to socialize and go to a rally or two before an election. The article, "Women Plan Organization While Men Take Vacation from Political Endeavors," notes that efforts were underway to register 200,000 women in South New Jersey to vote.

Other documented activity of Nellie Penick includes a term as president of the Parent Teacher Association for the Charles Sumner Public School in 1928. She died in 1960 at the age of seventy-three. Her husband died in 1963 at the age of eighty-five in the same home he owned in 1920. His obituary states that he was a retired employee of the Camden Housing Authority and a member of the Oriental Lodge, F&AM, Camden, an affiliate of the Prince Hall Masonic Lodge.


Dean Miller to Talk at Sumner Dedication. Courier Post (Camden, NJ), February 2, 1928.

Edward Walter Johnson. The Morning Post. (Camden, NJ), February 15, 1928.

James Penick. Courier-Post (Camden, NJ), October 24, 1963.

New Jersey, U.S., Death Index, 1901-2017. Nellie Penick. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2010.

New Jersey, U.S., State Census, 1915. Provo, UT, USA:, 2010.

U.S. Bureau of the Census: 1910, 1920. Provo, UT, USA:, 2010.

Women Plan Organization While Men Take Vacation from Political Endeavors. Courier-Post (Camden, NJ), March 24, 1922.

Women's State G.O.P. Club to Conduct 'Public Forum' in Y.M.C.A. Here Tomorrow. Courier-Post (Camden, NJ), March 22, 1922.

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