Biographical Database of Black Woman Suffragists

Biographical Sketch of Julia Mason Layton, 1858-1925

By Thomas Dublin, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Binghamton University

Julia Mason was born in Middleburg, Virginia in 1858 to Henry and Ann Mason. By 1880, the family had moved to the District of Columbia, where Henry worked as a waiter and his daughter Julia continued to live at home while attending M Street High School. After attending Miner Normal School for a year, she became a teacher in the DC colored schools, beginning in the elementary grades and by 1891-92, back at her alma mater, M Street High School.

In 1893, Julia married fellow teacher John T. Layton. By 1900 the couple had two sons, John Turner and Alfred, and lived on 10th Street, NW, in a household that also included Julia's parents. By 1910 the Laytons owned their mortgaged home and John continued as a music teacher in DC schools. Their sons were now 15 and 10 and 80-year-old Henry Mason completed the household. Her husband died in 1916 and the 1920 DC census recorded Julia as widowed and heading a household that included 19-year-old Alfred and her now 90-year-old father. Julia, now 62, was recorded as a matron in a war camp.

Julia Layton was active in the DC branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), serving on its Executive Committee between 1913 and 1916. In February 1921, Layton joined a delegation of 60 Black women suffragists, who protested violations of the recently ratified 19th Amendment in Southern states that denied Black women their voting rights. The delegation, headed by the NAACP field, Addie W. Hunton, 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.

Julia Layton passed away in Washington, DC, in February 1925 and her obituary in the Chicago Defender described her as "one of the most eminent welfare and social workers in the country." She was active in the Grand Army of the Republic, the Women's Relief Corps, and the National Association of Colored Women (NACW). She served as a DC representative on the National John Brown Memorial Association of Women, an organization founded by NACW leaders to erect a memorial to John Brown "and his faithful followers." These groups were just a few of some 24 organizations which a 1913 article in the Afro-American Ledger noted that Layton belonged to.

Judging from her biographical sketch in the Negro History Bulletin, Layton's greatest commitment was to the Baptist Church. She was baptized in DC's Nineteenth Street Baptist Church in 1879 and was married there in 1893. She was a member of the Deaconesses' Club and the Ladies Christian Mite Society of the church. She frequently represented the District of Columbia at annual meetings of the National Baptist Convention and served on the board of the National Baptist Training School for Women and Girls that was directed by fellow suffragist Nannie S. Burroughs.

Sources:

Henry S. Robinson, "Julia Mason Layton, 1859-1926," Negro History Bulletin, 45:1 (Jan.-March 1982), 18-20.

Federal Manuscript Census entries, Loudoun County, VA, 1870, Washington, DC, 1880, 1900-1920. Accessed online via Ancestry Library Edition.

Death record, Julia W. Layton, Washington, DC, 8 Feb. 1925, and Find-a-Grave death record, both accessed online via Ancestry Library Edition.

"Mother of Turner Layton Passes Away: Son Abroad," Chicago Defender, 14 Feb. 1925, p. 2. Her older son was a noted song writer and composer.

Constitution of the National John Brown Memorial Association of Women, accessed online at https://womansera.digitalscholarship.emory.edu/volume-3-number-4/.

 

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