"Colored Women's Professional Franchise Association" by by Mary Ann Shadd Cary

Transcript coming soon! Please visit ColoredConventions.org/douglass-day to learn more about our transcription events in partnership with Howard University’s Moorland Spingarn Research Center.  

Mary Ann Shadd Cary’s vision for Black women’s economic empowerment has not been credited as paving the way for the nationwide grassroots organizing effort that coalesced in D.C. just a year before her death, known as the Black Club Women’s movement. Historian Stephanie Shaw traced club women’s movements back to its roots in early Black mutual aid societies organized by women in the 1830s.[1] The CCP considers the Black Club Women’s Movement as a tributary of the Colored Conventions movement, meaning in many ways it grew out of the colored conventions’ accomplishments and social networks. At the peak of the club women’s movement toward national organizing it existed alongside the final decade of the convention movement, and then becoming the legacy and afterlife of the convention movement but with Black women at its center and helm. Over decades these local clubs grew in number and united across states and regions, until they met in D.C. in 1892 to form a nationwide coalition called the National Colored Women’s League. Shadd Cary’s contemporaries and neighbors in D.C., such as Mary Church Terrell and Anna Julia Cooper, are credited as foremothers and leaders of the movement, not only for their locally organizing Black women, but also for their published writings about their experiences at the intersection of gender and racial oppression.[2] However, Shadd Cary falls out of this history, perhaps because her organization failed to actualize any of its goals. 

In 1880 Shadd Cary founded the Colored Women’s Progressive Franchise Association, which she wrote the charter for in its first meeting held at Mt. Pisgah Chapel, and which appears in the slideshow above.[3] The purpose of the organization was to create the political and economic support system that Shadd Cary had struggled without, but spent years advocating to be formed by Colored Conventions and suffragette groups alike. Her plans included advocacy and programs for vocational training, forming a joint stock company to fund Black women’s small businesses, creating a newspaper for Black women to publish in, and campaigns calling for progressive gender roles that promoted Black women’s independence and place in the public sphere. In 1887 she attended a meeting for the Association for the Advancement of Women, bringing her message to a larger and more supportive audience than she encountered when she submitted her writings on the subject to Black male-led newspapers. It wasn’t until 1894 that Josephine Ruffin in Boston launched The Woman’s Era newspaper which later became the organ of the club movement, giving Black women activists a national readership for their local campaigns and intersectional perspectives.[4] Mary Ann Shadd Cary’s contributions to advancing Black women’s rights in D.C. during Reconstruction constitute her refusal to be marginalized by the Colored Conventions movement, and Black male political organizers writ large. Specifically, she fought to occupy a space between organizations and movements in order to bridge the gap between the causes racial and gender equality, and the temporal gap between those divided groups and the generation of Black clubwomen and Black suffragettes that would come after she passed away on June 5th, 1893.


[1] Shaw, Stephanie J. What a Woman Ought to Be and to Do: Black Professional Women Workers during the Jim Crow Era. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1996.

[2] Higginbotham, Evelyn Brooks. Righteous Discontent: the Women’s Movement in the Black Baptist Church, 1880-1920. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1994.

[3] “Colored Women’s Professional Franchise Assn” (2020). Organizations. 1. From Digital Howard of Howard Univ. Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, accessed Dec 10, 2020. https://dh.howard.edu/mscary_org/1

[4] Streitmatter, Rodger. Raising Her Voice: African-American Women Journalists Who Changed History. Lexington, KY: Univ. Press of Kentucky, 1994.