Edwina M. Wright Mitchell

 

Biographical Database of Black Women Suffragists

Biographical Sketch of Edwina M. Wright Mitchell, 1887-1979

 

By Rigby Philips, graduate student at University of Maryland, College Park

Edwina M. Wright Mitchell was born July 7, 1887, in Augusta, Georgia. Her father, Maj. Richard Robert Wright, was a formerly enslaved man who twice declined the position of U.S. Minister to Liberia and was president of both the Citizens & Southern Bank & Trust Company and Georgia State College. Richard Wright's financial talents earned him the attention of President William McKinley, who appointed him special paymaster with the rank of major during the Spanish-American War. Mitchell's mother, Lydia Elizabeth Howard Wright, was born in Columbus, Georgia, to one of the city's first Black businessmen. Edwina Mitchell had seven siblings: Richard Robert Wright, Julia O. Wright, Essie Ware Wright Thompson, Lillian Wright Clayton, Whittier Howard Wright, Harriet Wright Lemon Hines, and Emanuel C. Wright.

Mitchell received her education from Georgia State College, Atlanta University, Pratt Institute, University of Pennsylvania, Columbia University, and the College of Design in Paris, France. As a young woman, between about 1915 and 1925, she lived and worked as a teacher at Virginia Normal and Industrial School. In 1920, Mitchell and 8 other teachers were the first Black women to vote in Ettrick, Virginia, after the ratification of the 19th Amendment.

Upon her marriage in 1940 to Joseph E. Mitchell, the founder of the St. Louis Argus, Mitchell moved to Missouri and taught in St. Louis public schools. She eventually supervised the Home Economics department at Sumner High School. The Mitchells had no children together, but Joseph Mitchell had a son, Orvel, from a previous marriage.

Mitchell was passionate about social justice. She devoted most of her time to the Women's Achievement Association and the YWCA, and she held life membership in the NAACP and the National Freedom Day Association. Mitchell was active in the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) and attended the 1944 NCNW Workshop led by Mary McLeod Bethune. At the workshop, Mitchell was chosen as an associate editor of the NCNW magazine, African Woman's Journal. The nationwide journal encouraged community organizing and direct political action.

In the late 1940s, Mitchell established the St. Louis Achievement House. The club's purpose was to give women of all socio-economic backgrounds the opportunity to share various skills with the public. Women who wished to teach a skill, demonstrate an art form, or promote an idea or product could do so at the House; people who wished to learn these skills could do so cheaply. The Achievement House promoted the idea of working together for the public good and encouraged local women to display their achievements.

Mitchell participated in Plan Bond Contests and took an interest in trading stock. Her financial ventures eventually turned into a legal battle. As a widow, she publicly battled her sister-in-law, Nannie Mitchell Turner, for years over the St. Louis Argus Trust Estate. This battle eventually turned physical; in 1955, Mitchell sued Turner for $25,000, citing bodily injury. Eventually, the fight over the Argus went all the way to the Missouri Supreme Court. The tribunal removed Mitchell as a trustee of the newspaper in 1957.

After her husband's death in 1952, Mitchell moved to Philadelphia. Twenty years later, she published his biography, The Crusading Black Journalist: Joseph Edward Mitchell. Mitchell enjoyed traveling through the United States, Europe, and Liberia.

Edwina Mitchell died in January of 1979 in Philadelphia. She is buried at Mount Lawn Cemetery in Sharon Hill, Pennsylvania.

Sources:

"Edwina Mitchell, 90, Dies; Was Major Wright's Daughter." Philadelphia Tribune. January 26, 1979. Accessed on Find a Grave.

Find a Grave. Edwina Wright Mitchell. Accessed August 2, 2022. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/234850573/edwina-mitchell

Find a Grave. MAJ Richard Robert Wright Sr. Accessed August 2, 2022. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/199073331/richard-robert-wright

Find a Grave. Lydia Elizabeth Howard Wright. Accessed August 2, 2022. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/199073330/lydia-elizabeth-wright

"High Court Affirms St. Argus Ruling." Jackson Advocate. January 12, 1957, p. 4. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn79000083/1957-01-12/ed-1/seq-4/

"In-Laws Battle." The Pittsburgh Courier. December 03, 1955, p. 6. Newspapers.com.

"Lou Swarz Jottings." Jackson Advocate. November 05, 1949, p. 4. Chronicling America. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn79000083/1949-11-05/ed-1/seq-4/

"Mrs. R.R. Wright Dies After Long Illness; Married 56 Years." The Chicago Defender. October 21, 1933. Accessed on Find a Grave.

"National Women's Organizations Plan Victory Bond Selling Contest." Jackson Advocate. October 27, 1945, p. 4. Chronicling America. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn79000083/1945-10-27/ed-1/seq-4/

Petersburg, Virginia City Directory 1915, 1918, 1921, 1922, 1924, s.v. "Edwina M Wright." HeritageQuest.

The Evie Spencer DeCosta Papers, 1984-26. Special Collections and Archives, Johnston Memorial Library, Virginia State University, Petersburg, VA.

"The National Council Meets." The Pittsburgh Courier. October 21, 1944, p. 10. Newspapers.com.

Turner v. Mitchell, 297 S.W.2d 458 (Mo. 1956).

 

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