Observer Corp Training



9:30 am – 11:00 AM


September 7th 


Kennedy Library


Register Now


Choose a Meeting to Observe

Observers do not speak in meetings

Empowering Voters. Defending Democracy.

Register Now

Only takes a few seconds!

Take notes and report to Observer Corp Leader

If you can attend a government meeting, please take notes and report on it for the rest of us.

Democracy is not a spectator sport

Unless you’re taking notes for the League of Women Voters!

Making Democracy Work!


RSVP by sending an email to Julie Mason through any of the register now links above.

Profiles of lesser-known heroines in the fight for women’s rights


Daisy Bates

There are many remarkable images online of Daisy Bates, unfortunately none are free to use. Please take the time to  click this link to see several examples of this strong, dedicated, female fighter for equal rights. 

Millie Riley lived a short, brutal life. Only months after giving birth to her daughter in 1914, she was raped, murdered, and her body disposed of in a millpond by three white men. At eight years old, her daughter Daisy Lee Gatson learned what had happened to her mother. She also learned that the men had faced no punishment. At eight years old, she learned that local law enforcement didn’t consider her mother’s murder worth investigating.

“My life now had a secret goal,” Daisy said years later, “to find the men who had done this horrible thing to my mother.” Anger and a desire for vengeance took hold of Daisy at a young age. As an adult, that fire for vengeance would grow into one for justice and she would become a driving force in the integration of schools in the South. But as a young woman, Daisy was full of hate.
























 If you hate, make it count for something. 

Following the death of her mother, Daisy’s father passed her along to the care of family friends Orlee, a World War I veteran, and Susie Smith. She would never be reunited with her biological father. Young Daisy attended segregated schools and experienced first-hand the poor conditions that were deemed adequate for black students. Orlee Smith died when Daisy was a teenager, which came as a terrible loss. By her own account, she adored the man and couldn’t recall “a time when this man I called my father didn’t talk to me almost as if I were an adult.” Her relationship with Susie Smith was far more fraught and often violent; she “often clobbered, tamed, switched, and made [me] stand in the corner,” Daisy wrote. But it was Orlee’s words and not Susie’s actions that would alter Daisy’s path. 

Consumed by the injustice of her mother’s murder, Daisy sought out the culprits. She caught a man’s eye one day in a commissary and the guilt in his gaze made her certain he’d been involved in Millie’s demise. She became a regular sight at his hang-out, a steady reminder of his crime as the man lived a life of drunkenness. He would once plead to Daisy, “In the name of God, please leave me alone.” He later drank himself to death.

“You’re filled with hatred. Hate can destroy you, Daisy,” Orlee said to her as he lay on his deathbed. “Don’t hate white people just because they’re white. If you hate, make it count for something. Hate the humiliations we are living under in the South. Hate the discrimination that eats away at the South. Hate the discrimination that eats away at the soul of every black man and woman. Hate the insults hurled at us by white scum—and then try to do something about it, or your hate won’t spell a thing.”

 “The perseverance of Mrs. Bates and the Little Rock Nine during these turbulent years sent a strong message throughout the South that desegregation worked and the tradition of racial segregation under ‘Jim Crow’ would no longer be tolerated in the United States of America.”

Daisy Bates became the president of the Arkansas Conference of the NAACP in 1952. With her husband L.C. Bates by her side, she poured her energy into the Arkansas State Press, a newspaper that shined a light on the achievements of the black community in the area, as well as the injustices they faced. She was at the fore-front of the battle for school desegregation when the eyes of the nation turned to Little Rock and the Arkansas governor’s refusal to comply with the federal law established by Brown v. Board of Education. Every step of the way, Daisy experienced resistance, violence, insults, and protests from the white community. The Ku Klux Klan burnt crosses on her lawn at dusk.

It was Daisy who lead the Little Rock Nine, the nine students selected to attend and integrate Central High School, through the hateful, screaming crowds. One of the students, Elizabeth Eckford, recalled the day. “I tried to see a friendly face somewhere in the crowd,” she said, “someone who maybe could help. I looked into the face of an old woman and it seemed a kind face, but when I looked at her again, she spat on me.” Daisy was the point of the spear on this battleground of the Civil Rights Movement. 

During this time, Martin Luther King, Jr. sent word to Daisy, urging her to maintain “a way of non-violence,” even as she and the nine students were “terrorized, stoned, and threatened by ruthless mobs.” He insisted, “World opinion is with you. The moral conscience of millions of white Americans is with you.”

(Daisy) moved to the rural black community of Mitchellville where she worked tirelessly for her neighbors, establishing a program that brought water systems, sewer lines, paved roads, and a community center to the area. 

The governor of Arkansas attempted to delay the date of integration, citing the danger of an increase of violence. He neglected to mention, of course, that the violence was almost entirely initiated by whites who launched on a campaign of terror against the black community with Daisy Bates at the center. Her home was a haven for the Little Rock Nine.

Her home would later be declared a Historic National Landmark. Of its significance, a National Parks publication says, “The perseverance of Mrs. Bates and the Little Rock Nine during these turbulent years sent a strong message throughout the South that desegregation worked and the tradition of racial segregation under ‘Jim Crow’ would no longer be tolerated in the United States of America.”

Though her actions in Little Rock would be her most known, Daisy Bates never stopped working for justice. She later relocated to Washington, D.C. to work with the Democratic National Committee. She headed anti-poverty programs while serving in President Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration. When her health demanded, she returned to Little Rock, then moved to the rural black community of Mitchellville where she worked tirelessly for her neighbors, establishing a program that brought water systems, sewer lines, paved roads, and a community center to the area. 

In 1987, Little Rock opened the Daisy Bates Elementary School, paying tribute to a woman who, in her own elementary years, had been a child in pain and burning with hate. Daisy Lee Gatson Bates died in 1999, a formidable, iron-willed woman who channeled her rage into meaningful change for all the children who followed her.

Profiles of lesser-known heroines in the fight for women’s rights


Nannie Helen Burroughs

By The Rotograph Co. – This image is available from the United States Library of Congress‘s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID cph.3b46093.This tag does not indicate the copyright status of the attached work. A normal copyright tag is still required. See Commons:Licensing for more information., Public Domain, Link

In the late 1890s, Nannie Helen Burroughs was unable to find a teaching position in the District of Columbia Public Schools, despite her thorough education and preparation. While the school system did hire black teachers at the time, it preferred light-skinned ones. Burroughs, she was told, was “too dark.” By 1909, Burroughs had founded The National Trade and Professional School for Women and Girls, Inc., a vocational school catering specifically to African-American women who were denied other opportunities.

Burroughs’ zeal to “beat and ignore until death” the restrictions society presented to her burned throughout her life. A devout Baptist, Burroughs gained significant attention for her address at the National Baptist Convention in 1900. Her speech, titled “How the Sisters are Hindered from Helping,” launched the fight for women to have a greater say in the decision-making of the church. This demand for change was not entirely well-received.

“Who’s that young girl?” a man in the audience is quoted as saying. “Why don’t she sit down? She’s always talking. She’s just an upstart.”

Burroughs had a ready answer for him. “I might be an upstart, but I am just starting up.”

While still in school, Burroughs founded the Harriet Beecher Stowe Literary Society. At age 17, she helped found the National Association of Colored Women and served in that organization for decades. In 1906, she introduced Woman’s Day to the Baptist Church, a program focused on educating women in public speaking and teaching them to be community leaders. In 1912, she began publishing The Worker, a magazine advocating for missionary work, both foreign and domestic. In 1931, she was appointed committee chairwoman, primarily concerning Negro Housing, by President Herbert Hoover. In 1934, she joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, throwing her energy into their demands that the attorney general include lynching in that year’s Crime Conference agenda.

At an NAACP rally, she declared to an energized crowd, “There are enough Negroes in Washington tonight to make Pennsylvania Avenue tremble…”

A white women who heard Burroughs speak in Florida that same year said, “She is not only up-to-date in her understanding and analyses of great questions, but she is 50 years ahead of her time.”

“Who’s that young girl?” a man in the audience is quoted as saying. “Why don’t she sit down? She’s always talking. She’s just an upstart.”

Burroughs had a ready answer for him. “I might be an upstart, but I am just starting up.”

Throughout her robust work and activism, Burroughs had both allies and detractors. She lost the support of the male-dominated National Baptist Convention, but joined ranks with and gained admirers such as Thurgood Marshall and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King called her “the first leader of Negro Women in America.”

She considered voting both a citizen’s right and their obligation, and pushed for stronger and more unyielding activism in her later years. In September of 1960, at age 81, she spoke at a Women’s Convention meeting. “The day of protest has come,” she said. “It has come out of centuries of suffering but that the ‘weapons’ of black warfare must not be frustration and hate. Rather, African-Americans must use education, improvement of home and family life, and Christian living to achieve their goals.”

Nannie Helen Burroughs died the following year on May 20, 1961 at age 82. It was said in her eulogy, “She is the last of the pioneer women in higher education. She was a voice crying in the wilderness, strong and loud, for equality of women with men.” The school she founded—The National Trade and Professional School for Women and Girls, Inc.—was later renamed the Nannie Helen Burroughs School.

Profiles of lesser-known heroines in the fight for women’s rights


Rosa May Billinghurst

“I remember hearing startling stories of her running battles with the police,” said a veteran suffragette of Rosa May Billinghurst. “Her crutches were lodged on each side of her self-propelling invalid chair, and when a meeting was broken up or an arrest being made, she would charge the aggressors at a rate of knots that carried all before her.”

Known as “the cripple suffragette,” Billinghurst was born in Lewisham, London in 1875. A childhood bout of polio left her paralyzed. Throughout her youth, she and her sister Alice worked with underprivileged children, inmates at workhouses, and local sex workers. These experiences, and the injustices Billinghurst witnessed, informed her interest in women’s suffrage and her decision to join the Women’s Liberal Association, and later the Lewisham branch of the Women’s Social and Political Union.

Undeterred, she was back in the action again only days later, now prepared to use her tricycle as a battering ram.

Billinghurst, in her three-wheeled chair, was a frequent sight at peaceful protests organized by the WSPU. However, she was no stranger to the more militant protests—and the police. During a 1910 incident, the police temporarily subdued Billinghurst by throwing her out of her tricycle “in a very brutal manner,” as she recounted later, and forcing her arms behind her back. Police disabled her tricycle and left her “in the middle of a hooligan crowd,” she said. Undeterred, she was back in the action again only days later, now prepared to use her tricycle as a battering ram.

Billinghurst’s first arrest was in 1911, charged with obstructing police during a Parliament Square demonstration. She was also involved in the WSPU’s window-smashing campaign in 1912, a tactic meant to pressure members of parliament to give women the vote in an upcoming bill. She carried rocks on her lap, secreted away beneath the blanket over her legs. During a 1913 demonstration, Billinghurst chained herself to the gates of Buckingham Palace. She endured several prisons terms, some as long as one month of hard labor. Like Sylvia Pankhurst, Billinghurst suffered forced feedings while incarcerated that left her unwell and with broken teeth. 

Yet, Billinghurst’s dedication to the cause, and particularly the plight of the poor and working class, never wavered. She died in 1953 and left her body to science. In 2018, a statue of Millicent Fawcett, a suffragist leader, was unveiled in Parliament Square. A list of 59 individuals who fought for women’s suffrage appear on the plinth. Among them is Rosa May Billinghurst. 

Profiles of lesser-known heroines in the fight for women’s rights


Melvina Walker

Melvina Walker and Nellie Cressall. Photograph: Norah Smyth/Institute of Social History

“…keep your eyes open,” Melvina Walker said to her fellow poor and working-class women. “…Organize yourselves, don’t be led away by people with ‘superior brains,’ we have something more than that; we have practical experience.”

From her first involvement with the Women’s Social and Political Union and the leadership of the Pankhursts, Walker strained against the middle-class scope of the suffrage and feminist movements of her time. Walker was married to a dockworker and worked in London’s East End. She criticized the WSPU’s dismissal of the needs of mothers and the organization’s divide from those who had to work for a living, despite their sacrifices for the cause. (Working women often used their one day a week off from work to walk to the city’s center and participate in the WSPU’s protests and speeches, adding their voices to the rallying cry for their rights.

Walker distinguished herself as a powerful public speaker and a leader able to energize the East End workers. “She seemed to me like a woman of the French Revolution,” Sylvia Pankhurst said of Walker’s fiery speaking style. “I could imagine her on the barricades, waving the bonnet rouge, urging on the fighters with impassioned cries. When in full blood of her oratory, she appeared the very embodiment of toiling, famine-ridden, proletarian womanhood.”

In 1914, the East London section of the WSPU was expelled from the organization specifically because of their “socialist” focus that emphasized class as well as gender reform. Walker and others then became the East London Federation of Suffragettes. In the coming years, the name would change again, becoming the Women’s Suffrage Federation in 1916, then the Workers Socialist Federation in 1918, revealing not only the commitment to socialism, but also their support of the Russian Revolution.

Walker often attended political gatherings to meet other working women “who have the same struggle as I to live and who like myself have been chloroformed in the past by parsons and pious ladies who tell poor women that if they want better homes they must wait till they get up above for heaven is their home,” she wrote in The Worker’s Dreadnought, a newspaper published by the East London organization.



Walker distinguished herself as a powerful public speaker and a leader able to energize the East End workers. “She seemed to me like a woman of the French Revolution,” Sylvia Pankhurst said of Walker’s fiery speaking style. “I could imagine her on the barricades, waving the bonnet rouge, urging on the fighters with impassioned cries. When in full blood of her oratory, she appeared the very embodiment of toiling, famine-ridden, proletarian womanhood.”

Throughout the rest of her life, Walker’s political fire stayed fractured from the mainstream suffrage movement. She turned her energy to creating labor unions, fighting for workers’ rights, and opposing the United Kingdom’s involvement in the uprising in Russia. Wrote Henry Pollitt, who later became general secretary of the Communist Party, “Mrs. Walker of Poplar toiled like a Trojan, on a shopping morning you could rely on seeing her in Crisp Street, talking to groups of women about Russia and how we must help, asking them to tell their husbands to keep their eyes skinned to see that no munitions went to those trying to crush the revolution.”

“Feminism is not enough,” was a common phrase amongst Walker and those activists like her. The Workers’ Dreadnought as a publication summed up their ultimate philosophical disagreement with organizations like the WSPU. They were unable to “assent to the old-fashioned suffragist standpoint that the political activities of women must begin and end with two subjects, Votes for Women and venereal diseases.”

Celia, A Slave by Melton A McLaurin

Profiles of lesser-known heroines in the fight for women’s rights


Celia, 18

Asserted Control Over Her Own Body

Celia, A Slave by Melton A McLaurin

In August of 1855, Celia, an enslaved woman of 18, stood before a jury of 12 white men accused of the murder of Robert Newsom. Newsom was a successful Missouri farmer who had purchased Celia four years earlier. Facts not in dispute were that Newsom had sexual relations with Celia frequently since purchasing her at the age of 14 (fathering two children by the teenager) and that Celia had bludgeoned Newsom to death. The question before the jury was whether Celia’s actions were murder or self-defense.

The State of Missouri vs. Celia, a Slave remains significant in United States history because it brought before the court another, larger question. Namely: Was Celia a person, or property?

In Celia, A Slave, author Melton A. McLaurin details the events of the trial and its aftermath. Celia herself was not called to testify. On the stand, two men recounted their conversations with her on the morning the crime was discovered. Thomas Shoatman, a defense witness, testified that Celia insisted she hadn’t intended to kill Newsom, “only to hurt him, to keep him from having sexual intercourse with her,” he said. The prosecution objected and the reference to preventing sexual intercourse was removed from the official record.

Celia’s trial laid bare to history the deep racial inequities in the application of the law. While it was a crime “to take any woman unlawfully against her will and by force, menace or duress, compel her to be defiled,” this law had never been used to prosecute crimes against black women. The defense argued that the phrase “any woman” included Celia, and therefore her actions were justifiable self-defense against defilement. This argument was not popular in slave-holding states. The Emancipation Proclamation was still 10 years in the future and the abuse of slaves, and particularly the sexual abuse of female slaves, was widespread and entirely accepted by the majority of the white population.

As the jury recessed to make their decision, the defense and prosecution were permitted to submit instructions for the 12 men deciding Celia’s fate. The defense requested that the jury consider Celia’s rights as a woman, “any woman,” under the law. Therefore, if they believed that Celia was defending herself against sexual assault, they must rule the murder justifiable self-defense. Judge William Augustus Hall rejected this request and the jury received no such instructions. In the eyes of the law, Celia was Newsom’s property; he could do anything he wanted to her, including rape. The jury found Celia guilty and Judge Hall sentenced her to be hanged on Nov. 16, 1855.

Believing her a victim of assault who had rightfully defended herself, the men in charge of Celia’s defense felt “more than ordinary interest on behalf of the girl.” Five days before her scheduled November execution, Celia was “taken out by someone,” removed from her cell, hidden, and only returned to prison after the date passed.

Celia’s defense team, lead by John Jameson (who had served as a Missouri State Representative), immediately requested a stay of execution and began preparing a petition to the Supreme Court of Missouri to hear the case. Judge Hall refused to change the date of the hanging, likely intending for Celia to be executed before the Supreme Court could review the petition for her life. Believing her a victim of assault who had rightfully defended herself, the men in charge of Celia’s defense felt “more than ordinary interest on behalf of the girl.” Five days before her scheduled November execution, Celia was “taken out by someone,” removed from her cell, hidden, and only returned to prison after the date passed. Celia was then granted a new execution date of Dec. 21.

The Missouri Supreme Court responded to the defense team’s petition on Dec. 14. “Upon an examination of the record and proceedings of the Circuit Court of Callaway County in the above case,” their reply read, “it is thought proper to refuse the prayer of the petitioner … It is therefore ordered by the Court, that an order for the Stay of the execution in this case be refused.”

Celia was hanged on Dec. 21, 1855.

The contradiction revealed by this case—that Celia was property until punishment—has received scrutiny by historians studying slave law, abolition, and the early days of the United States government. Saidiya V. Hartman writes in Seduction and the Ruses of Power, “As Missouri v. Celia demonstrated, the enslaved could neither give nor refuse consent, nor offer reasonable resistance, yet they were criminally responsible and liable. The slave was recognized as a reasoning subject, who possessed intent and rationality, solely in the context of criminal liability.”

Though Celia’s defense was unsuccessful and the morality of her actions debatable, she is one of the first enslaved women known by name who asserted, both physically and legally, her control over her own body.

Profiles of Lesser-Known Heroines in the Fight for Women’s Rights

Rose Pengelly @ the Women’s Hall exhibition @ Tower Hamlets Local History Library

Rose Pengelly

At age 14, Rose Pengelly led her fellow workers at the Backs Asbestos Pipe Factory in a strike. Her red hair at the head of the procession, she blazed the trail all the way to the Women’s Hall. Conditions at the factory were unacceptable. Men and women were expected to haul equally heavy loads, though women were paid a third of the wage the men received. In addition, women were expected to perform domestic duties for the boss, tasks that were never assigned to the men despite their greater pay.

             Even with the wage advantage the job was hardly a joyful one for the men. All the employees of Backs Asbestos Pipe Factory worked in unsanitary and unsafe conditions. When two men attempted to form a union, they were immediately fired. It was in protest and solidarity with these men that young Rose Pengelly—a member of the Junior Suffragettes Club of the East London Federation since age 12—led the march to the Women’s Hall. The next day, Rose, too, was fired.

             With her bravery, youth, and activism, she earned the nickname “Little Sylvia” after notable suffragette leader Sylvia Pankhurst. Rose devoted her time and talents to the suffragette cause. She often danced and played the pan flute at fund-raising picnics.

Little is known about Rose beyond her teenage years. Writer Deb Scott-Lovric, in a story accompanying a sketch of “Little Sylvia” at the Bancroft Road Library, tells of a workplace injury Rose experienced in 1916. A blade for box-making sliced Rose’s flute-playing fingers. When she awoke from the shock and blood loss, 16-year-old Rose was given a sip of brandy and fired from the job. The factory had no first aid and no obligation to its injured employees, regardless of the dangerous machinery. Rose had to make her way to the hospital alone; none of her coworkers could afford to take half-day wages or lose their job altogether to escort her.

After this, Rose’s story is seemingly lost to history. Considering her spirit, it’s likely she stayed involved in the call for unions at London’s factories. It is equally likely, however, that the necessity of making a living demanded more and more of her time. At age 16 with a physical disability, Rose may have slipped even lower in the working social class she’d been fighting so hard to help. Though she did not see personal success in her efforts, what she did was not wasted. In 1914, with her green eyes and red hair, Rose Pengelly was one of the youngest at the head of a line, a line of strong activists and committed workers that continues today, fighting for equal pay and ethical workplaces.


*Editor’s note: Picture found on Flickr includes information about Rose Pengelly, including her married name. Click the picture above to visit the post.

Forgotten Foremothers
Profiles of lesser-known heroines in the fight for women’s rights
By Kathryn S. Gardiner

Coralie Franklin Cook

“Rochester has been proud of the citizenship of Frederick Douglass, it has honored Booker T. Washington, and now it is to have an opportunity of responding to a claim on its interest and consideration from a woman of the same race of these men,” declared the Democrat and Chronicle of Rochester, New York on Nov. 28, 1902. Coralie Franklin Cook was to speak at the Unitarian Church for their Political Equality Club. She was an active and notable member of the National American Women Suffrage Association, alongside Susan B. Anthony and other leaders of the day.

In its noting of the event, the Democrat and Chronicle quoted The New York Tribune’s coverage of a similar engagement featuring Cook: “It was left for a young colored woman to impress the Council of Women as it had not been impressed before during its sessions. Mrs. Cook came to the council as a fraternal delegate from the National Association of Colored Women. It is not too much to say that in voice, simple dignity and ease of manner Mrs. Cook is the peer of any woman in the council. The force of this may be appreciated when it is added that it is the general feeling among the women themselves. It was a revelation. There has been nothing finer in unconscious grace, nothing stronger than this young woman’s plea for the womanhood of her race. It stirred the council to the depths of its highest, noblest feelings.”

Coralie Franklin was born in Lexington, Virginia, in 1861, two years before she and her parents, Albert and Mary Elizabeth, would be freed by the Emancipation Proclamation. She was a descendent of Brown Colbert, an enslaved man owned by Thomas Jefferson and living on his Monticello property. In 1880, Brown Colbert’s great-grandaughter Coralie would graduate from Storer College, becoming the first of the Monticello descendants to earn a college degree.

Susan B. Anthony hosted the Rochester event showcasing Cook. Initially, the two women held each other in high regard. Cook once described Anthony as one of “the immortal few who have stood for the great principles of human rights,” and just two years earlier, in 1900, Cook had been the only African-American speaker invited to give an address at Anthony’s 80th birthday celebration.

In her speech honoring Anthony, Cook spoke poignantly about a weakness she saw in the movement, namely that the cause of white women remained the priority. While pursuit of the right to vote ostensibly crossed racial and socio-economic lines, the leaders remained primarily white, educated, upper- to middle-class—and largely guilty of prejudice against those who were not. (Indeed, much is revealed in The New York Tribune declaring a mannered and intelligent Black woman to be “a revelation.”) White suffragists generally believed that the racism experienced by women of color was a racial issue and therefore not within the bounds of their cause.

“No woman and no class of women can be degraded and all womankind not suffer thereby. …and so Miss Anthony,” Cook said, addressing Anthony directly before the audience, “in behalf of the hundreds of colored women who wait and hope with you for the day when the ballot shall be in the hands of every intelligent woman; and also in behalf of the thousands who sit in darkness and whose condition we shall expect those ballots to better, whether they be in the hands of white women or Black, I offer you my warmest gratitude and congratulations.”

The 19th Amendment granting the women the right to vote in 1918 was certainly a victory. However, for women who were not white, wealthy, or educated, it remained an incomplete one. Black men had been granted the right to vote in 1870 with the 15th Amendment, yet actual attempts to exercise that right had been repeatedly met with mob violence and lynching. Black women now faced those same obstacles to their rights, and women like Cook who had carried the suffrage banner found themselves standing alone in facing them. Seemingly, as far as white women were concerned, the battle was over.

Cook felt she was “a born suffragist,” but in 1921, she left the National American Women Suffrage Association, disappointed and disheartened by the apathy of her white peers. The Women Suffrage Association, she wrote, “had turned its back on the woman of color.”

With her husband George Cook, Coralie Franklin Cook converted to the Baha’i faith in her 50s and turned her energies to empowering African-Americans and fighting racial inequality. Cook died in 1942 at the age of 81.



Forgotten Foremothers

Profiles of lesser-known heroines in the fight for women’s rights

By Kathryn S. Gardiner

The Misses Rollin

“If you want a thorough posting upon political affairs in South Carolina, you must call on the Rollins.”

Northern reporters from The Sun and The New York Herald brought all their assumptions into the parlor of the Columbia home of the Rollin sisters of South Carolina. By the 1871 newspaper interviews, the reputation of the Rollin family was already well known. Southern politicians and intelligentsia gathered at their salons, which were casually referred to as “The Republican headquarters,” and they were highly influential in the Reconstruction South. Just the same, these contemporary white journalists were shocked by the intelligence, gentility, and poise of Frances Ann, Charlotte, Katherine, Louisa, and Florence.

Their mother has been lost to history, but their father, William Rollin, was a member of the “colored aristocracy” and a native of Santo Domingo (modern day Dominican Republic). He prioritized the education of his daughters, preferring a French curriculum. The eldest, Frances Ann, gained public attention in 1867 when she pursued a discrimination lawsuit against a boat captain who refused her first-class passage. In her legal battle, she was aided by Major Martin Delany, an African-American abolitionist, journalist, physician, and soldier. The lawsuit was ultimately successful and Delany commissioned Frances Ann to write his biography. This publication, “Life and Public Services of Martin R. Delany,” was published under the name Frank Rollin, as publishers decided the public was not ready for a book authored by an African-American woman. (Notably, “Frank” was also Frances’s nickname.)

Frances Ann would be the only one of the five sisters to marry, wedding William J. Whipper, an African-American abolitionist and a veteran of the Civil War. Their union produced five children and Frances was widely known to be William’s primary advisor throughout his political career. After 12 years, the couple separated in the 1880s, owing partially to the stress of their individual activism and the continued racial strife in the South. Frances relocated to Washington, D.C., with their children, where she continued her education and the fight for civil rights.

Second-born Charlotte “Lottie” Rollin shared her oldest sister’s passions. “We all believe in women’s rights,” Charlotte told the Herald reporter, “and have had the assistance of the best and purest, and not the noisiest, of our sex.” In March of 1869, Charlotte argued for women’s suffrage before the state house of representatives, making the case that the Constitution did not define voters as male, therefore women should be permitted. In December 1870, Charlotte organized a “Women’s Rights Convention,” serving as chair with her sister Katherine as secretary. Charlotte founded South Carolina’s branch of the American Woman Suffrage Association.

While the pursuit of suffrage faced opposition from both white and black men, Charlotte’s dedication did not waver. “We ask suffrage not as a favor, not as a privilege, but as a right based on the grounds that we are human begins and as such entitled to all human rights, said Charlotte. All of the Rollin sisters were active in South Carolina’s AWSA and were part of a strong push in 1872 for a state constitution amendment for suffrage.

The amendment sparked intense debate (and a fist fight in the legislature) and was ultimately defeated. Despite the Rollin sisters conviction that the Civil War “rebels” would never reclaim control of South Carolina, their personal suffrage efforts failed and the promise of the post-Civil War Radical Reconstruction collapsed. All five sisters would eventually leave their southern home, escaping the growing danger of the Ku Klux Klan, which would, Charlotte told the Herald, “visit Columbia before long, and when that terrible time comes we must be away from here.” In the years to come, Charlotte and Louisa would settle in Brooklyn.

Less is known about the individual lives and passions of the youngest of the Rollin women, Florence, save for her name alongside her sisters in their organizations. The Sun and Herald reporters were impressed by the Rollin sisters’ wit and “ravishing beauty.” “Their manners were refined,” one man wrote, “their conversation unusually clever and their surroundings marked them as ladies of keen taste and rare discernment. But for their color they might move in the highest circles of Washington and New York Society.”

The stunning and impressive lives of the Rollins is explored more fully in “‘The Remarkable Misses Rollin:’ Black Women in Reconstruction South Carolina” by Willard B. Gatewood, Jr. Though the Rollin sisters faced extraordinary setbacks, they also witnessed—and often aided—tremendous progress. Gatewood writes, “For a brief moment following the end of the Civil War, conditions existed that allowed educated and talented black women such as the Rollin sisters to become activists in behalf of their race and sex. Fully aware that Reconstruction…was for them often a ‘perilous’ and ‘stormy period,’ the sisters nonetheless looked back on the era with great pride and no little nostalgia, for they were, in Frances[‘s] words, ‘a part of that wonderful drama.’”


Policing and the Politics of Reform

Nan Barber, Convenor League of Women Voters of Muncie/Delaware County introduces Dr. Max Felker-Kantor, author of Policing Los Angeles and visiting Associate Professor at Ball State University History Department

Policing Los Angeles, Race, Resistance and the Rise of the LAPD, by Dr. Max Felker-Kantor

Dr. Felker-Kantor presenting information on the early days of Los Angeles, and the reasons for his interest in studying the subject.

Coalition Against Police Abuse, CAPA

CAPA was a citizens coalition which followed police cars at night in order to serve as witnesses for those who were pulled over by them.

LWV of Muncie/Delaware County presented 

Prison Reform : The Carceral State 

Saturday, April 20th, 2019 at the Kennedy Library 

About 25 Muncie residents turned out to hear speaker Max Felker-Kantor, Ph.D. He is a visiting Assistant Professor of History at Ball State University and author of Policing Los Angeles. 

Dr. Felker-Kantor explained his research into the path which led to the Rodney King riots, and the course taken by officials to attempt to remedy the situation. According to his research, the community is stuck in a cycle of lack of oversight of the police department, which has been tasked with policing itself, and riots from citizens affected by that lack of oversight. 

He began with a brief history of the culture of Los Angeles, which was nearly 100% white in its early days. There were many immigrants in Los Angeles, but those immigrants were also white. When a large number of black citizens moved into L. A., the police were tasked with enforcing segregation. When segregation ended, the police still upheld the cultural norms of white culture over those of minority cultures. Defining “good citizens” by the standards of white culture caused a friction between the police and any minority culture which behaved within the law but outside of those cultural norms.  

An “Us vs. Them” attitude evolved in the L. A. police department which sometimes resulted in pitting officers against community. This attitude  explains why simply hiring officers within a neighborhood to police that same neighborhood was not an effective solution to issues like police brutality and harassment. 


Teresa Basey 
Member, League of Women Voters of Muncie/Delaware County 

Policing Los Angeles author, Max Felker-Kantor, Ph.D.

The solution suggested by Professor Felker-Kantor was a complex and nuanced society-wide reformation. Most importantly, we need a police department that answers to a citizen commission in order to be held accountable for corruption, abuse, and harassment policies.

Other issues include a shift in media coverage that better represents reality, as opposed to sensationalism, and a shift in the majority culture’s use of the police department to force minority cultures to behave within the majority culture’s norms. 

The McCone Commission

After the Frye brothers and their mother were arrested by police, rumors spread that a pregnant woman was kicked by police and the neighborhood, fed up with other incidents of police brutality, struck out against the L.A. police. The McCone Commission was tasked with understanding what caused the worst riot in L.A. history, until Rodney King, and suggesting a path forward to resolving the issues.

Calls for L.A. Chief of police Daryl Gates to step down

During the Rodney King riots protestors demanded that Chief Gates finally step down, after years of supplying his own employment evaluations.

Folks mingling before the presentation

I encourage you to visit his website at to find out more about his research, and to purchase his book Policing Los Angeles, where he explains his findings in depth.