During the era of reconstruction after the Civil War, many black women began organizing to form clubs and organizations. Formed for many reasons, some clubs came into being out of a need for social activism, and some were in response to the exclusion of black Americans from those white-run clubs and organizations that already existed. Many focused on mutual aid, community, recreation, education, political advocacy, and public influence. They often hosted debates, speakers, dinners, and other public events, creating a platform through which they could promote culture, racial and gender equality, and the uplifting of their fellow black Americans. Through these organizations, many woman were able to hold important roles in public life, influencing and affecting change within their communities.
Crispus Attucks Club
Organized in April of 1890 in memory of Crispus Attucks, who was shot during the Boston Massacre of 1770. Dorothy Curtis was a member of the Harrisburg club. The York branch is still active today, and was founded in 1931 by Dr. George Bowles and Reverend Orr in order to meet the social and recreational needs of the Black community in York.
Founded by Rev. John E. Price in 1865 , the Garnet Equal Rights League hosted speakers and had lectures open to the public, and fought for equal rights in policies and political thought. A year before their official founding, the league hosted a huge celebratory reception for African-American soldiers fighting in the Civil War, involving other clubs and organizations as well. Annie Amos was a part of this organization.
Image: Harrisburg Patriot, October 1 1867
Good Samaritans and Daughters of Samaria
The Independent Order of Good Samaritans was founded in New York, in 1885, with George A. Fassett as Grand Chief. The first lodge of Daughters of Samaria was organized in 1847, but records of their activities are scarce. Hannah Jones was the recording secretary for Harrisburg’s branch of the order.
Harrisburg Branch of NAACP
Founded in 1908, the NAACP exists to advocate for and secure political, social, educational, racial, and economic equality, and the preservation of civil rights under the Constitutional Amendments. It still exists as a major national organization. Maude Coleman was the President of Auxiliary for the Harrisburg branch, which met at Bethel A.M.E. Church.
Independent Order of Daughters of Temperance
While they appear in newspapers before this date, the organization was officially recognized in 1903 by the Court of Common Pleas in Dauphin County. They advocated for total abstinence from alcoholic beverages, mutual aid and support, good citizenship, and uplifting fellow women. Annie Amos and Annie M. Summers were both members of this order.
Judith Household of Ruth
The Ruth degree of the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows was founded by Patrick Henry Reason in 1858, to unite the wives and daughters of members of the Order in supporting the community. The Household of Ruth still exists today. Josephine Bibb was a member of the Judith branch in Harrisburg, which hosted events, dinners, teas, and speakers.
Miriam Household of Ruth No. 1
This is the first Household of Ruth, organized in 1858. The Ruth degree of the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows was founded by Patrick Henry Reason, to unite the wives and daughters of members of the Order in supporting the community. This lodge hosted annual Christmas parties, bake sales, guest speakers, and celebrated their 100th anniversary in 1958. Hannah Jones held the position of secretary, and Josephine Bibb and Susan Sophes Spence were also members.
Image: Philadelphia Tribune, October 1953
War Camp Community Service
Formed during World War One, this organization existed to provide soldiers with libraries, gymnasiums, sport leagues, and other wholesome recreational activities. They also hosted dances and dinners open to both soldiers and the public, to promote community and build strong relationships between the soldiers and the places they were staying. Mary Braxton-Roberts was a member of this organization.
Image: The spirit of war camp community service / Heywood Strasser & Voigt Litho. Co. N.Y. 1918. Courtesy of Library of Congress
American Interracial Peace Committee: Alice Dunbar-Nelson, Executive Secretary and 1928 Executive Director.
Francis Willard Loyal Temperance Legion: Mary Braxton-Roberts
Martha Washington Association: Susan Sophes Spence
Pennsylvania Association of Colored Women: Maude Coleman, State Treasurer and Vice President.
Unity Social Club: Janie Blalock Charleston
Women’s National Republican Organization and the Negro Women’s Republican League: Maude Coleman
The Problem of Information
Newspaper archives are a major resource for researching clubs and organizations. Most of the information on this page was gathered from short articles or announcements printed in papers from Harrisburg and the surrounding area. Sadly, most small publications made by the African-American community in Harrisburg have not been recorded in a manner easily accessible to the public, and this makes researching women’s organizations very challenging. A lot of information about these organizations was also spread through word-of-mouth, by women reaching out to their social circles, or through pamphlets printed in small batches and distributed by the group themselves. When major newspapers did mention African-American women’s organizations, it was often just a line in someone’s obituary.
- “African American Reformers.” National Women’s History Museum, http://www.womenshistory.org/resources/general/african-american-reformers.
- The Christian Recorder, 20 Apr. 1863.
- The Christian Recorder, 23 Dec. 1865.
- Evening News, 13 Dec. 1918.
- Harrisburg Patriot, 18 Aug. 1903.
- Harrisburg Patriot, 19 Apr. 1890.
- Harrisburg Patriot, 23 Apr. 1889.
- Harrisburg Patriot, 25 July 1903.
- Harrisburg Patriot, 8 May 1883.
- “History.” GRAND UNITED ORDER OF ODD FELLOWS IN AMERICA AND JURISDICTION, 15 Apr. 2017, guoof.org/household-of-ruth/history/.
- “The Independent Order of Good Samaritans and Daughters of Samaria.” Elevator, 2 May 1885.
- Jones, Martha S. All Bound Up Together: The Woman Question in African American Public Culture, 1830-1900. The University of North Carolina Press, 2007.
- “Nation’s Premier Civil Rights Organization.” NAACP, 19 Nov. 2020, http://www.naacp.org/nations-premier-civil-rights-organization/.
- “Our History.” Crispus Attucks, 1 Nov. 2020, crispusattucks.org/who-we-are/our-history/.
- “War Camp Community Service.” For the Boys Over There, unitedwarwork.com/groups/war-camp-community-service/.