Biographical Database of Black Women Suffragists

Biographical Sketch of Matilda Wheelock, 1873-1959


By Thomas Dublin, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Binghamton University

Matilda Albert Taylor was born in Virginia about 1873. She completed two years of college. In September 1895 she married Frederick Douglas Wheelock in Lynchburg, Virginia. The couple lived in Hampton, Virginia in 1900 and 1920. In 1900 Frederick worked as a clerk in a school and in 1920 he was a plumber at Hampton Institute. The couple had two children and the older one, Lucille, was a public school teacher and then a librarian. Matilda was widowed at some point in the 1920s and in 1930 and 1940 she worked as a matron at the Hampton Normal Institute.

Like many women in her cohort connected with the Institute, Matilda and her daughter Lucille rushed to register to vote after the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment. Matilda registered successfully, but then word came down to the registrar to make things difficult for Black applicants, who had to "write out the application without a form to indicate which information was needed, take a written test, and then take an oral test as well." Her daughter was given an "oral test [that] dragged on for nearly ‘three quarters of an hour' before the registrar told her she did not pass." She "failed" despite being a college graduate and a teacher. When Matilda complained about her daughter's treatment, the registrar responded that "he was sorry, but that he was obeying orders."

By 1950, now 77, Matilda was retired and she lived in Phoebus, Virginia, which consolidated with Hampton in 1952. Her daughter and fellow suffragist, Lucille, returned to live with her mother by the date of the 1950 census. Matilda helped raise funds for the American Red Cross and volunteered with the Zion Baptist Church Bible School. She died in Hampton, Virginia in 1959.


Liette Gidlow, "Resistance after Ratification: The Nineteenth Amendment, African American Women, and the Problem of Female Disfranchisement after 1920," in Women and Social Movements in the United States, 1600-2000 (2017).

Federal Manuscript Censuses, Elizabeth City County, Va., 1900, 1920-1950, accessed online with Ancestry Library Edition.

Matilda Wheelock death record, Hampton, Va., 1959, accessed with Ancestry Library Edition.

Newport News Daily Press, 22 June 1952, "Zion Baptist Church Open Bible School," p. 33; "Phoebus Has ARC Canvass This Week," 29 March 1953, p. 40.


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