Biographical Database of Black Women Suffragists

Biographical Sketch of Lucille P. Owens, 186?-?

By Thomas Dublin, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Binghamton University

Lucille Owens was born in Michigan in the 1860s (census listings vary considerably) to Thomas and Anna Owens, the fourth of eight children. Her father was a barber and in 1880 Lucille (also Lucy) was a hairdresser. In 1880 and 1900, the family resided in Detroit. By 1900, Anna was widowed and the household included six grown children, a daughter-in-law, a grandchild and three boarders. In 1920, Lucille continued to live in Detroit, now with a married older sister, a brother, and a nephew. She worked in Travelers Aid and remained single at 47. In 1930 she continued to live in Detroit with her now widowed older sister and worked as a private nurse. She was said to be divorced. An 1897 marriage record suggests that she married Thomas Henry Clarke and the 1900 census recorded her as single but named her "Lucille Clarke." The 1920 and 1930 censuses restore her name as Owens and the 1930 census is the first to record her as divorced. In 1950 Lucille is enumerated as a patient in the Wayne Country Hospital and that is the final surviving record.

From Detroit in April 1920, Lucille Owens wrote to Mary Church Terrell in her capacity as Chairman, NAACP Committee on Entertainments. She invited Terrell to give a lecture (or lectures) to the NAACP branches in Cleveland, Toledo, and Detroit. In 1922 Owens served as a delegate from Detroit to the NAACP national convention.

This work with the NAACP led to an invitation in February 1921 to join a delegation of Black women suffragists, who protested violations of the recently ratified 19th Amendment in Southern states that denied Black women their voting rights. The delegation grew to 60 suffragists, headed by the NAACP field secretary, Addie W. Hunton, and met with Alice Paul, head of the National Woman's Party (NWP), on the eve of the party's national convention. Their purpose was to press the NWP to pass a resolution calling on Congress to investigate the failures of Southern states to enforce the 19th Amendment for Black women. Paul made no such commitment and the convention as a whole refused to endorse the call.

No additional records of Owens's NAACP activity appear to have survived, but in the Detroit Free Press I found a brief note in September 1937 indicating that

Lucille hosted a study group meeting at the Lucy Thurman Branch of the YWCA, a Black YW branch. The 1950 census listing in the Wayne County Hospital provides the last surviving record that I found. Lacking an obituary or a death record, her date of death remains unknown.

Sources:

Federal Manuscript Censuses, Detroit, MI, 1880, 1900-1950. Accessible online with Ancestry Library Edition.

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.

NAACP Papers, 1922 Convention.

"Club News," Detroit Free Press, 28 Sept. 1937, p. 11.

Letter, Lucille P Owens to Mollie Church Terrell, 4 April 1920. Mary Church Terrell correspondence, January-April 1920. Accessible online at https://tile.loc.gov/storage-services/service/gdc/gdccrowd/mss/mss42549/mss42549-005/mss42549-005_00007_00054.txt.

 

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