Biographical Database of Black Woman Suffragists

Biographical Sketch of Mary J. Gordon, 1863-1932

By Thomas Dublin, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Binghamton University

Mary J. Gordon (maiden name uncertain) was born in Pennsylvania in 1863 or 1864. In 1884, Mary married James H. Gordon, a Tuskegee graduate. In 1900 Mary, her husband, and daughter Julia resided in Ward 22 in Philadelphia, where her husband was employed as a minister. In 1910 the family had moved to Brooklyn, where James was the superintendent and Mary the matron at the Howard (Colored) Orphan Asylum in Brooklyn, responsible for some 250 children.

As early as 1907 and 1908, Mary Gordon attended regular meetings of the Equal Suffrage League (ESL) in Brooklyn and in November 1907 she gave a woman suffrage talk at an ESL meeting. The New York Age recorded a portion of that address. Following a scriptural justification for women's equality with men, Gordon spoke: "Because of this I believe in woman's vote, woman's enfranchisement and in everything. I believe in it because no race can rise above its women. And now in these times while our white sisters of the South are saying if they could vote they'd overbalance the black men, etc. I believe in it because we should be well informed so that we could not only teach our boys and girls, but that we, too, could vote and overbalance those women's prejudices. Our people are being oppressed as we attempt to rise. Some men of every race fail to value their vote. Our men, like others, are not ready to die for their vote. This evil can only be remedied in the homes. Until our women fully appreciate the responsibility they'll never be able to combat. Women are to be helpmates in the home, church, in State and everything and woman's parity will do much in eradicating the roughness, etc., in politics.

As women, our contention is not only for the vote, but for the uplift of our race. If you want to uplift the world, woman will have to be a part of that uplift."

The last suffrage activity for Mary Gordon for which there is surviving evidence was a garden party in Flushing, Queens in May 1913. Mrs. Gordon took charge of a booth at the event.

In 1911 the Orphan Asylum moved to a 572-acre farm in Kings Park, Long Island and the Gordons moved with it. James passed away in 1914 and Mary served as superintendent through 1917. The asylum offered a program organized around industrial education, much influenced by the work of Booker T. Washington at Tuskegee. The asylum closed in January 1918, unable to secure adequate coal to heat its buildings. Mary had one exchange of letters with W.E.B. Du Bois in September 1918, when she resided at 1 Jefferson Ave. in Brooklyn. In her letter Mary asked if she might use his name if she applied for a social work job and commented on a recent visit she had had with Mrs. Du Bois.

In 1920 Mary was employed as a clerk in the New York Bureau of Buildings, earning an annual salary of $600. Her address at that time was 308 E. 39th St. in Brooklyn. She died in Brooklyn in November 1932.

Sources:

Federal Manuscript Census, 1900, Philadelphia, ward 22; 1910, Brooklyn, ward 24. Accessed through Ancestry Library Edition.

New York death record, James H. Gordon, 3 March 1914. Death record, Mary Gordon, Brooklyn, 15 Nov. 1932. Both accessed through Ancestry Library Edition.

New York Age, 21 November 1907, p. 6 and other articles identified by searching on Newspapers.com.

"New Home is Opened," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 7 June 1911, p. 2.

"Suffragists' Garden Party," Brooklyn Times Union, 14 May 1913, p. 8.

L. Hollingsworth Wood, "To Give a Child a Chance," The Southern Workman, Jan.-Dec. 1914. Accessed online.

Carleton Mabee, "Charity in Travail: Two Orphan Asylums for Blacks," New York History, 55:1 (January 1974), 55-77.

Judith Wellman, Brooklyn's Promised Land: The Free Black Community of Weeksville, New York (New York: New York University Press, 2014).

Untitled, The Crisis, 13:6 (April 1917), 297.

"Howard Colored Orphan Asylum," in Wikipedia. Accessed online at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Howard_Colored_Orphan_Asylum.

"The City Record," 1920, p. 181. Accessed online at http://cityrecord.engineering.nyu.edu/data/1920/1920-07-31%20part%200005.pdf.

 

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