Lifting As We Climb: Introduction

Welcome to Lifting As We Climb: Mapping the Stories of African American Suffragists.

“Lifting as We Climb” was the motto of the National Association of Colored Women (now known as the National Association of Colored Women Clubs), a national organization created in 1896 to support African American women’s rights reforms. Many of the women who founded and participated in NACW were ardent woman suffragists, but their stories are often silence or ignored.

Today, the traditional narrative of women’s suffrage centers on women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Alice Paul. These women led major organizations such as the National American Woman Suffrage Association and the National Woman’s Party. However, these successful movements had a troubled relationship with women of color. The white middle-class women who participated in these mainstream organizations often excluded African American women in attempts to gain support from women in south, or due to their own prejudices. African American women then, although they participated in suffrage campaigns through these mainstream organizations or through their own clubs and actions, are often excluded from most discussions of the suffrage movement.

This project was designed to add another layer to that conversation. By researching and sharing the stories of African American women who were involved in suffrage campaigns, we can gain a better understanding of what these women’s lives were like. This research can uncover where they lived, who they interacted with (both in their own activist communities, and with traditionally white suffrage organizations) and what opportunities they created for themselves. These stories are just the beginning as we take more time to learn about the complex histories of the women who came before us.

How To Use “Lifting As We Climb”

This project is a map-based activity that identifies 35 African American women who were involved in suffrage and women’s rights campaigns throughout their lifetimes. There are two ways to interact with the maps.

The first is through the Lifting As We Climb Collection. By following this link, you can move through the map and the pins on your own terms, and select which activists you are interested in learning more about. To ensure that all pins are visible, you should zoom the map out until you can see the entire country.

The second way to view the stories of these activists is through the Lifting As We Climb Tour. This is a more structured experience and guides the you through the map pin by pin. This approach guarantees you will see all the pins while creating a spatial link between the women.

Suggested Bibliography

Interested in learning more? Here is a collection of accessible sources to gain more information on African American suffragists, women’s rights activists, and civil rights activists at the turn of the century.

“African American History,” Black Past,

“African American Women Leaders in the Suffrage Movement,” Turning Point Suffragist Memorial,


“Black Suffragists” Women & The American Story, New-York Historical Society,

“Lifting as We Climb: The Story of America’s First Black Women’s Club.” Women’s Museum of California,

Mead, Rebecca J.“The Woman Suffrage Movement in the United States,” Oxford University Press,

“Our History,” NAWC,

“Overlooked,” New York Times Obituaries,

Terborg-Penn, Rosalyn,  African American Women in the Struggle for the Vote, 1850–1920 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998)

“Women and Social Movements,” Alexander Street Press,

“Women’s History,” The National Women’s History Museum,