Letters regarding African American suffrage organization
Black women in El Paso sought admission to National American Woman Suffrage Association
African American women eagerly sought the ballot to empower black communities. They campaigned through their own clubs because their participation in the mainstream movement was not welcomed by the Anglo-led suffrage associations. This series of letters details how an African American club in El Paso sought admission to the national association and was denied for fear that they would "embarrass the cause."
Maude Sampson (1880–1958) founded the El Paso Negro Woman's Civic and Enfranchisement League on June 12, 1918. Already active in El Paso’s women’s clubs and the NAACP, Sampson worked with other African American women in the city to campaign for suffrage. She also worked closely with the city’s Anglo suffrage club, the El Paso Equal Franchise League who suggested she seek admission for her group to the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). Sampson wrote a letter to Maude Wood Park at NAWSA asking to enroll her local league as an auxiliary branch.
Sampson's request prompted an exchange of letters between white NAWSA and Texas Equal Suffrage Association (TESA) leaders. To confirm that Mrs. Sampson was black, TESA reached out to Belle Critchett at the El Paso Equal Franchise League. Critchett verified Sampson's race and added her support for Sampson, saying it was at her club’s suggestion that Sampson had applied. The two suffrage groups had been working together in El Paso, and Critchett had even suggested Sampson as an election clerk to the county's Democratic executive chairman.
At this point, NAWSA’s national president, Carrie Chapman Catt, stepped in. While it was ultimately a state decision, she advised that TESA leaders tell Sampson that they "will be able to get the vote for women more easily if they do not embarrass you by asking for membership." When TESA president Minnie Fisher Cunningham responded to Sampson, she informed her that since the El Paso application for membership was the first of its kind, it required delegate action. The next convention was not scheduled until the following spring, and hopefully by then the federal amendment would be ratified making action by TESA unnecessary.
Undaunted, Sampson continued to work as a political activist in El Paso. In 1920, she served as a precinct campaign organizer for Robert E. Thomason, the prohibition candidate in the Democratic primary. And she played a life-long role in the El Paso NAACP as a champion for African American rights.
Courtesy Jane Y. McCallum Papers, Austin History Center, Austin Public Library
Time Period: 1866 - 1936
Exhibit: Sister Suffragists
This artifact is currently on view.