Sydna E. R. Francis

Sydna Edmonia Robella Francis, child of John and Charlotte Dandridge, moved with her family from Virginia to New York where John was employed as a waiter [1]. Sydna married Abner H. Francis in New York where both are described as being of mulatto descent in the 1850 U.S. Census [2]. In 1843, their daughter Theodosia Gertrude was born [3]. While in Buffalo, Sydna was secretary of the Female Dorcas Society as well as President of the Ladies’ Literary and Progressive Improvement Society of Buffalo [4][5]. According to Sydna in a letter addressed to Frederick Douglass, the Ladies’ Literary and Progressive Improvement Society of Buffalo was the only female group formed to improve “the moral intellectual, political, and social advancement” of its members (African American women in Buffalo) by promoting literature, art and sciences that encourage “political reform” [4][5].  Sydna’s strategy is akin to her husband’s as she attempted to publicize and spread awareness about social reform whenever she could. For instance, after the Ladies’ Literary and Progressive Improvement Society of Buffalo received a donation from the Independent Order of Daughter of Temperance, Sydna wrote to North Star seeking to publicize the news [6]. 

It is also possible that Sydna utilized her husband’s social influence to advance the agenda of the organizations she led. On February 7th, 1849, Abner Francis wrote a letter to Gerrit Smith because he was requested “…by an association of ladies to address a line to you on a subject of considerable importance to them…” [12]. The white political abolitionist Gerrit Smith fought for African Americans rights and to extinguish slavery throughout his lifetime [13]. The letter does not detail what topic the “Ladies of Buffalo” wished to discuss with Mr. Smith, but urged Mr. Smith to visit Buffalo [12]. On November 12th of that same year, Mr. Smith was awarded the “Silver Pitcher” at a private ceremony [14]. The Silver Pitcher was presented to Mr. Smith on behalf of Francis, Henry Highland Garnet and “the Colored ladies of Buffalo” [14]. He was awarded the Silver Pitcher because of his activism according to a speech made by Garnet [14]. The proceedings of the ceremony were recorded and published in the Impartial Citizen newspaper. Both the letter and the article imply that honoring Gerrit Smith was a project the ladies of Buffalo designed and organized, but they also required the aid of their male associates, Francis and Garnet.

Written by Heather Sinkinson, English 139 taught by Kimberly Blockett, Pennsylvania State University, Spring 2014.

Edited by Sarah Patterson, Curator


[1] "1243 Rudlin Street ." Victoria Heritage Foundation, 1 Jan. 2013. Web. 14 Apr. 2014. 

[2] The United States Census Bureau. Eerie, New York, 4th Ward of Buffalo, 1850. Family History Library Film.

[3] “Family Tree”. Historical n.d. Web. 24 Apr. 2014. 

[4] Ray, Charles B "For the Colored American." The Colored American 4 Nov. 1837. Black Abolitionist Papers.

[5] Francis, Sydna E. R.. "To a Charitable Public." North Star 22 Feb. 1850, Vol. III, iss. 9 ed.: n. p. Print.

[6]Francis, Sydna E. R.. "BUFFALO, April 5th, 1850. Mr. EDITOR: The Ladies' Literary...."The North Star 5 Apr. 1850: n. pag. Print.

[7] Francis, Abner Hunt. Letter to Gerrit Smith. Buffalo, New York. 27 Feb. 1849. Black Abolitionist Papers. 16 Apr. 2014

[8] Calarco, Norman. "From Slavery to Freedom – Interview with Norman Dann Ph.D.,” National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum. Personal interview. 2012.

[9 Francis, A. H., and Henry Highland Garnet. "Presentation of the Silver Pitcher to Mr. Smith, by Mr. Francis and H. H. Garnet on Behalf of the Colored Indies of Buffalo at Peterboro." Impartial Citizen 28 Nov. 1849: n. p. Print.