Biographical Database of Black Women Suffragists

Biographical Sketch of Julia E. Davis, 1879-1971

By Thomas Dublin, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Binghamton University

Julia E. Davis was born in Washington, DC in 1879, the fourth of five children of John R. and Eliza J. Davis. Her father was a laborer. By 1900, Eliza was widowed, heading a household that included two sons, two daughters, and two boarders. Julia at this date, at 19, was a student at Howard University, but her two older brothers worked to supplement their mother's income from her boarders. Julia graduated from Howard, but the date is uncertain. In 1910 the family no longer took in boarders, but benefited from the earnings of four adult children. Julia and her sister were both DC teachers, while both her older brothers brought home wages.

Julia Davis never married. She taught physical education in DC's colored schools from 1903 to 1950, continuing to live with her mother through 1940. The 1950 census found her "keeping house" at the age of 71, living with an older brother and a roomer, residing on Vermont Ave. in the District, where she had lived since at least 1920. Julia owned her home, valued at $10,000 in the 1940 census.

The 1920 census listing for the Davis household included one notable lodger, Dr. Ionia Whipper, the founder in 1931 of the Ionia Whipper Home for Unwed Mothers. Ionia's mother and two aunts—Frances, Charlotte, and Louisa Rollin—were all outspoken woman suffragists. Ionia herself was a 1903 graduate of the Howard University Medical School and pioneered giving lectures on sex education to Black female audiences across the South, sponsored by the YWCA. In the 1920s she was employed by the U.S. Children's Bureau to give lectures to midwives across the South.

In February 1921 she joined Addie Hunton in a 60-person NAACP delegation that met with Alice Paul before a National Woman's Party convention that met in Washington, DC, to determine the post-suffrage agenda for the NWP. The delegation called on the NWP to call for a Congressional investigation of the Southern disfranchisement of most Black women voters in the run-up to the November 1920 elections. The convention turned down the Black suffragists' resolution and decided rather to follow Alice Paul's agenda and focus on challenging laws discriminating on the basis of sex, a position that led in 1923 to the NWP proposal for an Equal Rights Amendment.

Davis taught for another two decades after women secured the right to vote, though neither women nor men could vote in the District of Columbia. Only in 1964 did DC residents gain voting rights in presidential elections and in the 1970s they secured the right to vote for the District's mayor and Council members. Residents continue to be denied representation in Congress.

Julia E. Davis served as the treasurer of St. Mary's Episcopal Church between 1935 and 1950. She retired from the DC schools in June 1950, having served as a physical education teacher for 47 years. She passed away in 1971, though no obituary has been found.

Sources:

Ancestry Library Edition:

Julia E Davis links in 1880-1950 Federal Manuscript Census, all in Washington, D.C.

Julia E. Davis Death record, April 5, 1971.

Newspapers.com articles:

William Henry Davis, Death notice, Washington Evening Star, 22 August 1950.

Stories mentioning Julia E. Davis in Washington Evening Star and New York Age, with info on teaching career, Howard University connections, Black Society participation, and St. Mary's Church activity.

Wikipedia articles on Ionia Rollin Whipper and DC voting rights.

List of NAACP Delegation Members to Alice Paul, 12 February 1921, NAACP Papers, Part 04 Voting Rights and Voting Rights Campaign, 1916-1950 (Feb. 8, 1921-April 3, 1921), frames 61-64, Library of Congress.

 

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