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Honoring Blanche Stubbs

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Student's research leads to Hall of Fame induction for activist, suffragist

Carol Scott (center) stands with Delaware Gov. John Carney and his wife, Tracey Quillen Carney, at the Delaware Women’s Hall of Fame 2019 induction ceremony, where Scott presented a biography of inductee Blanche Williams Stubbs.

Editor's note: Carol A. Scott, the retired senior associate director of the New Jersey State School Boards Association, is an undergraduate student at the University of Delaware majoring in Africana studies and Spanish.

In her first year at UD, she took a class on Pan Africanism taught by Wunyabari Maloba, professor of Africana studies and of history, and, she says, “hungered to know more about Africa’s and the Diaspora’s placement in history.”

Later, she assisted Anne Boylan, professor emerita of history, in a project to research the work and contributions of black women in Delaware. Scott’s paper about suffragist and activist Blanche Williams Stubbs was selected from some 65 submissions nominating individuals for inclusion in the Delaware Women’s Hall of Fame. At its 38th annual induction ceremony in October, the Hall of Fame inducted Stubbs as its first posthumous honoree.

Scott’s research is also included in the national Biographical Database of Black Woman Suffragists. Here, she shares some highlights of her work:

Blanche Williams Stubbs

Mrs. Stubbs was born in Wisconsin in 1872. She was 10th of 15 children of John Ebenezer Williams and Elizabeth Bisland. She graduated from Howard University in Washington, D.C., in 1892 before migrating to and settling in Wilmington, Delaware. Her first encounters with segregation and perverse inequalities toward Blacks began in Washington, D.C., and Wilmington.

She entered the field of education and taught at the Howard School, which was by the 1890s, Black-run and the only four-year high school for African Americans in Delaware. Blanche taught at the school for over five years, resigning shortly after marrying J. Bacon Stubbs, a former colleague from Howard University. At this time, she began what would become her life-long journey as an activist.

In 1912 she, along with her husband and former teachers from Howard High School, founded the Garrett Settlement House, named for the city’s famed abolitionist leader, Thomas Garrett. This facility was the only agency of its kind that served the city’s African American community. Blanche became the settlement’s first director and served in that capacity until 1949.

Along with this major accomplishment, she supported and later became vice president of the Wilmington NAACP, devoted time to women’s club work and started the City Federation of Women’s Clubs, focusing on African American youth. This project prompted the opening of the Delaware Industrial School for Colored Girls in 1919. Advancement of Black youth was one of her primary concerns; however, becoming an active suffragist was as well. 

America is now readying to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment that gave women voting rights. Blanche Stubbs was part of this milestone of struggle, agitation and protest. When Delaware’s suffragists organized Wilmington’s first mass suffrage parade, she served as marshal to the “colored” section marching separately from white suffragists with whom Black women had joined hands in every reform movement since 1848. Blanche voiced her views on Black women’s suffrage in several ways, most notably in a lengthy letter published in the Wilmington Evening Journal insisting that Black women could be Democrats and Republicans and held diversified opinions. 

In July 1916, as the Congressional Union (CU) was recruiting ward-level suffrage support in Wilmington, she opened the Garrett Settlement House for CU’s use and presided over and organized the meeting. Later, on June 3, 1920, one day after the Delaware State legislature refused to ratify the 19th Amendment, she scheduled a public lecture at the settlement house on “The Equality of Men and Women.” Suffrage now won, Blanche protested Southern states’ disfranchisement of Black women and confronted the National Women’s Party chair, Alice Paul, on the refusal to support African Women’s voting rights.

Blanche continued her activism from 1920 through 1950. In the early 1920s she became chair of the Black-led National Republican Women’s Auxiliary Committee, and in 1927 she attended at least one Pan-African Congress in New York. When she was sitting vice president of the Wilmington NAACP, she was instrumental in blocking local theater showings of the racist film The Birth of a Nation. In 1927, Blanche lodged a formal complaint with Wilmington’s Park Commission when a group of her students were denied access to use playground equipment. Her action helped pave the way for all of Delaware’s public accommodations to be integrated. Her work and contributions to the civic life of Wilmington were honored by the Alumni Association of Howard University. 

Blanche took ill and passed away on March 11, 1952, in Wilmington. At her passing, Blanche Williams Stubbs, once an outsider to Wilmington, Delaware, was eulogized as one of the most prominent women in Wilmington’s African American community.  

To learn more about the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage, visit the Our Vote website about UD’s three-semester teaching initiative on the subject.

Article by Carol A. Scott

Published Nov. 21, 2019

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Research by student Carol A. Scott has led the Delaware Women's Hall of Fame to honor Wilmington civil rights activist and suffragist Blanche Williams Stubbs.
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