Chicago’s African American Women in the Fight for the Vote

A Part of the NWHM's Centenary Celebration Series, "Determined to Rise": Women's Historical Activism for Equal Rights.

This virtual panel was presented on August 26, 2020 by the National Women's History Museum in collaboration with the Newberry Library.


During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Black women played an active role in the struggle for universal suffrage. Chicago was a vibrant scene of political meetings, conventions, and organized societies where African American women outlined strategies to gain the right to vote. Yet despite their efforts, Black women were often marginalized from these struggles based on their race. In a conversation moderated by the Newberry’s Liesl Olson and co-sponsored by the National Women’s History Museum and the Newberry Library, scholars Tikia K. Hamilton, Wanda Hendricks, and Kenvi Phillips explore the role of African American women in the fight for suffrage.


Dr. Liesl Olson is the director of Chicago Studies at the Newberry Library. Her books include Modernism and the Ordinary (Oxford, 2009) and Chicago Renaissance: Literature and Art in the Midwest Metropolis (Yale, 2017), which won the 2018 Pegasus Award from the Poetry Foundation for the best book of poetry criticism, and the 2019 Mid-America Award from the Society for the Study of Midwestern Literature. Olson has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, the Newberry Library, and the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. She received, with three of her Newberry colleagues, the 2020 Outstanding Public History Project Award from the National Council on Public History for the year-long set of programs Chicago 1919: Confronting the Race Riots. Olson graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Stanford University and received her doctorate in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University.


  • Dr. Wanda Hendricks is a distinguished professor emerita of history in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of South Carolina where she teaches undergraduate and graduate courses on African Americans, African American women and the United States from 1865 to the present. Her most recent publication is Fannie Barrier Williams: Crossing The Borders of Region and Race (University of Illinois Press, 2014) which was awarded the Letitia Woods Brown prize by the Association of Black Women Historians for the best book by a senior scholar in African American Women’s History. Hendricks is also the author of Gender, Race, and Politics: Black Club Women in Illinois (Indiana University Press, 1998) and a senior editor of the three volume Black Women in America: Second Edition (Oxford University Press, 2005). Her essay ”On the Margins: Creating a Space and Place in the Academy” was published in Spring 2008 in Telling Histories: Black Women Historians in the Ivory Tower (University of North Carolina Press). Dr. Hendricks has completed a manuscript examining the transnational activism of Madie Hall Xuma, an African American woman who played a major role in women's movements in the American south, South Africa, and the World Young Women's Christian Association. The manuscript has been submitted for publication and is currently being peer reviewed.
  • Dr. Kenvi Philips is the first Curator for Race and Ethnicity at the Schlesinger Library of the Harvard Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. An accomplished historian, Phillips holds a master’s in public history and a doctorate in US history from Howard University. Before coming to the Schlesinger, she worked at the Mary McLeod Bethune House in Washington and the Maryland–National Capital Park and Planning Commission. Most recently, she served as assistant curator for manuscripts and librarian for prints and photographs at Howard’s internationally renowned Moorland-Spingarn Research Center.
  • Dr. Tikia K. Hamilton holds a PhD in history from Princeton, where she also taught. She holds a Master's in African American studies from Columbia University and a B.A. in history from Dartmouth College. Also a Mellon Minority Undergraduate Research Fellow, she has earned multiple fellowships and grants, including most recently the National Academy of Education Spencer Fellowship. Dr. Hamilton has extensive experience teaching at the secondary level and at several of the nation's top independent schools in Chicago, Washington D.C., and New York. She has conducted extensive research in women's history and activism, focussing especially on Black women's experiences in the 19th and 20th centuries, which is also reflected by Certificate in Gender and Sexuality Studies that she earned from Princeton. Dr. Hamilton also operates Triple Ivy Writing and Educational Solutions, where she assists various constituencies with editing, writing, and developing content for a wide variety of projects. She has authored numerous articles, including one that focuses on the discourses Black women marshalled in their quest for suffrage (currently under review) and recently wrapped up edits for a 2021 afterward for Dr. Johnetta B. Cole's new book, which speaks to the ongoing issues of racism in higher education (University of Virginia Press). Additionally, she is working on a book that chronicles the efforts among African Americans to obtain educational equality in the nation's capital during the decades surrounding Brown v. Board, which she plans to publish by fall 2022.
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