Mary B. Talbert, Feminist Icon

The Champion Magazine, October 1916

Why isn’t Mary B. Talbert (1866-1923) better known?  I discovered her through a feature on black women suffragists at the Digital Public Library of America.  However, suffrage was just one of her causes.  She was involved in the anti lynching campaign and all major civil rights and feminist movements of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  After graduating from Oberlin College, she taught school until her marriage.  Afterwards she became involved in African American women’s clubs, focusing on improving black women’s living standards and access to education in Buffalo, New York.  In 1916, she became president o f the National Association of Colored Women. As part the Niagara Movement, she helped lay the groundwork for the NAACP. 

As seen in the photo above, Talbert favored very feminine styles.  The surplice neckline of her dress is accented with white lace (or embroidery?) bringing the focus to her face.  She is about 50 here.

One wonders how much she liked the more masculine cut of the World War One uniform she wore while assisting African American troops in France during the war. 

The Crisis Magazine, 1922. Via Uncrowned Community Builders

At the end of the war, she became involved in the fight for civil rights on an international scale.  She was the first African American delegate to the International Congress of Women in Norway in 1920.  The photo above shows her posing in 1922 with other past presidents of the National Association of Colored Women.  Standing third from the right, she has returned to her feminine style, with a lace collar and flowery print.  But note her extremely sensible shoes.

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1 Response to Mary B. Talbert, Feminist Icon

  1. Bob Moeller says:

    Fascinating post. The first photo looks like a studio photographer’s work (she’s given a prop and the background is fake looking). I wish we could know whether the dress and the flower were her choices or reflected the suggestion of the photographer.

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