For the Freedom of Her Race: Black Women and Electoral Politics in Illinois, 1877-1932

By Lisa G. Materson | Go to book overview

[2]
Because Her Parents Had Never Had the Chance:
Southern Migrant Politics during the 1910s

In 1912 Jennie E. Lawrence quit her work as a teacher in the Carolinas to pursue a career in social work in Chicago.1 At some point between 1904 and 1907, Ella G. Berry left her home in Louisville, Kentucky, for Cincinnati and then for Chicago.2 By relocating to Illinois in search of professional and economic opportunity, both women also took control of their own political destiny and helped to transfer the center of the struggle for black rights from the South to the Midwest. During the 1910s, both emerged as leading Republican organizers in the predominantly black wards of South Chicago. By tracing Lawrence’s and Berry’s journeys through the lens of voting rights, this chapter considers how the political knowledge that migrant women acquired before leaving the South shaped their involvement in Chicago’s Republican circles after women’s voting rights expanded yet again in 1913.

Within a year of Lawrence’s 1912 arrival in Illinois, the state legislature increased the number of elections in which women could participate. In June 1913 the state legislature passed the Presidential and Municipal Suffrage Bill, which, as its name suggests, granted women residents of Illinois the right to vote in presidential elections and for many municipal offices.3 Illinois was among twenty-nine states where women could vote in presidential elections prior to the Nineteenth Amendment’s enactment in 1920. Four other states where large numbers of southern blacks relocated also extended the presidential franchise to women during the 1910s: Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, and New York. Upon settling in Chicago in 1913, Detroit or New York City in 1917, or Cleveland in 1919, a migrant woman acquired voting rights and thus joined the rapidly expanding black urban electorates of the Midwest and Northeast.4

Scholars have noted that because of their sheer numbers, migrants helped to create black urban constituencies in cities such as Chicago, Detroit, New

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