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African American Women and the Drive for Suffrage

In late October 1915, Florence Spearing Randolph (1866–1951), the first woman minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, brought together a group of thirty New Jersey women’s temperance societies in Trenton to generate more interest in the temperance movement among African Americans. The group was joined by church missionary societies, civic, literary, business, and political clubs to found the New Jersey State Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs (NJFCWC). Randolph was elected president and New Brunswick school principal Ella M. Rice (1863–1899) was elected treasurer. The NJFCWC joined the National Association of Colored Women in 1916. By 1917, the federation represented eighty-five clubs with a combined membership of 2,616 women. Randolph served as federation president for twelve years.

In 1917, Florence Spearing Randolph invited Lillian Feickert to address the NJFCWC’s 1917 convention in Plainfield. The New Jersey Woman Suffrage Association voted to admit the NJFCWC as an affiliated branch and Randolph, along with Mary N. Goodwin (b. 1870) of East Orange, became a member of the NJWSA Executive Board. Feickert realized the value of including New Jersey African American women in her suffrage coalition. After all, African American clubwomen had supported universal suffrage since the late nineteenth century. However, affiliation with NJSWA led to the formation of separate African-American suffrage societies rather than the integration of existing groups.


Florence Spearing Randolph

Florence Spearing Randolph was the first woman to serve as an ordained minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion (AMEZ) church and an advocate for women’s suffrage. Born in South Carolina, she trained as a dressmaker there and moved to Jersey City in 1885 when she realized she could earn much higher wages in the North. Always active in the AMEZ church, she received a license to preach in 1898, and despite opposition from male church leaders, was ordained a deacon in 1900. She was also a sought-after speaker in the temperance movement and foreign missions of the AMEZ church. These connections led her to organize the New Jersey State Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs in 1915 and serve as president for twelve years. In 1917, she was invited to serve on the executive board of the New Jersey Woman Suffrage Association.

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Red Cross Unit, Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church

This photograph depicts the Red Cross Unit of Mt. Zion AME church in New Brunswick during World War I. Lillian Thompson, who was also involved in the New Jersey Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs, is the last on the right in the third row.

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Annie Timbrook Jackson

Annie Timbrook Jackson (1864–1936) of New Brunswick was active in the Mt. Zion AME church in New Brunswick from the age of twelve. She sang in the choir for most of her life, was a member of the Stewardess Board for over 35 years, did missionary work, taught Sunday school, and was superintendent of the Sunday school on many occasions. Her first husband William Timbrook died in 1907 and she married Walter Jackson in 1918. Along with Lillian Thompson, she accompanied Ella Rice to the New Jersey Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs convention in 1917.

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Lillian Feickert and the New Jersey Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs

After being invited to speak at the NJFCWC convention in Plainfield in 1917, Lillian Feickert proposed inviting the NJFCWC to become an affiliate branch of NJWSA and its president Florence Randolph to serve on the executive board. A future meeting was planned to discuss increasing representation and to encourage the founding of local suffrage organizations among African American women. Feickert described the speakers and officers at the NJFCWC as “most intelligent, thoughtful, and worthwhile women.”

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Profile: Ella M. Rice (1863–1920)

Ella M. Rice (1863–1920) was born Ella Mount in New Jersey. She was serving as an organist at the Mt. Zion A.M.E. Church in Bordentown, when she met and married Walter Allen Simpson Rice; they later had four sons together. Her husband had been born a slave in South Carolina, joined the Union

Army at age eighteen, become a teacher in the Reconstruction South before moving to New Jersey where he was called to minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. In 1886, the couple founded the Manual Training and Industrial School in Bordentown. Based on Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, the school provided trade-based education for African-American students. Although New Jersey officially banned segregation in 1881, the Rices believed that separate schools did a better job of educating and supporting African-American children. When the school was taken over by the state in 1894, the family moved to New Brunswick, where her husband had previously been affiliated with the AMEZ church. In New Brunswick, the couple founded another school for black children, the Colored Industrial School, a private, coeducational boarding school, which opened in September 1897. Children at the school learned skills like cooking and sewing. Her husband served as principal while Rice was an instructor.

When Walter Rice died suddenly in January 1899, Ella Rice took over as principal of the school. Under her leadership, the school was renamed the Colored (later Rice) Industrial and Literary Institute and liberal arts courses were added to the trade-based curriculum. She became a leader in the black community in New Brunswick, frequently holding fundraisers for her school, with support from Mt. Zion A.M.E. Church, Ebenezer Baptist Church, Throop Avenue Chapel, Elks Lodge No. 215, the Colored Women’s Club of Middlesex County, Temple Anshe Emeth, the Hebrew Ladies Benevolent Society, and the Rice School’s Ladies’ Benevolent Society. Ella Rice was herself an active clubwoman who was President of the Colored Woman’s Christian Temperance Union of New Brunswick and Vice President of the State Association of Teachers of Colored Children. She was a founding member of the New Jersey Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs in 1915, when she was elected treasurer. In 1917, Rice attended the NJFCWC convention with Mt. Zion A.M.E. Sunday school superintendent Annie Timbrook and Lillian R. Thompson of New Brunswick. She was re-elected treasurer, representing 5,000 African-American women who were “working for the uplift of the race.” Rice lived long enough to see the suffrage victory, but died of pneumonia in November 1920. The NJFCWC founded a scholarship in her memory. The Ella M. Rice Club, composed of prominent women of New Brunswick, was established in her honor in 1923. Two of her sons carried on the school, which suffered a devastating fire in 1925, and closed a few years later.