The Colored Women’s Clubs and World War I, 1918
Courtesy, New Jersey Historical Society, Florence Spearing Randolph Collection
NJ State Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs, “Yearbook, 1921-23,” p 23-24
In this report to the 3rd Annual Convention of the NJ State Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs, its author (presumably Florence Spearing Randolph, the federation’s president) noted some of the organization’s activities since its founding in 1915. When the organization adopted the motto “Work and Serve the Hour” it had little idea what would be required. During World War I, the NJSFCWC women patriotically entered into the same types of relief work as other club women: working with the Red Cross, the WCTU, and the YWCA, raising money, sewing surgical dressings, pajamas, shirts, and knitting socks, scarves, and sweaters. “This is preeminently Woman’s Age,” the author noted, alluding to the campaign for woman suffrage in which black club women worked. “…[T]oday is a new day,” she said, “Not only a new day for the Negro Race, but a new day for the peoples of the world.” When the war was over, Randolph charged, it was the responsibility of club women to unite again in the struggle for equality, against race discrimination, segregation, “jimcrowism,” mob violence, and lynching.
Randolph, a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion church, founded the state federation to coordinate the work of various African American women’s clubs around the state. Generally barred from membership in the white women’s clubs of New Jersey, black women joined forces in their own organization to improve social, educational, and working conditions in their communities.
TO THE OFFICERS, DELEGATES AND FRIENDS OF THE
THIRD ANNUAL CONVENTION OF THE NEW JERSEY
STATE FEDERATION OF COLORED WOMEN’S CLUBS
Greetings: Dear Co-Workers:
We praise our dear Heavenly Father that our lives have been spared and that we are permitted to meet in this our Third Annual Meeting under such pleasant circumstances.
Thirty-three months ago, we met in the City of Trenton on what was called a conference to consider the advisability of forming ourselves into an organized body; the success and enthusiasm of that meeting went beyond our most sanguine expectations. Because of our desire to join hands with that galaxy of 100,000 noble women who determined to “Lift as they climb,” we changed the month of our annual meeting, therefore on the 28th of July 1916, we met in the town of Englewood, N.J., in a record breaking convention. In nine months we had enrolled 33 clubs. We held our second annual meeting in July 1917 in the City of Plainfield. According to Mrs. Mary B. Talbert, National President of Colored Women’s Clubs, Mrs. A. W. Hunton, and Miss Eva Bowls of the National Y. W. C. A., and other women of national character, this was one of the greatest meetings ever held by the women of the race. During the year we more than doubled our club membership.
Today, we greet you as your humble servant, for the third time, with greater confidence in your loyalty, your ability and determination to “work and serve the hour.” And what an hour it is; marvelous, appalling, far-reaching — when we selected as our motto, three years ago, “Work and serve the hour,” we little dreamed of its significance, little dreamed of this day of service; service to the world and to the nation as well as service to the race. We are face to face today with tremendous problems which must be met and solved; problems that require brain, thought, contact, loyalty, consideration and prayer to succeed. Divided it would be impossible. Today, as a race of people, we are entering into new and untried paths: how well this scripture applies, “Ye have not passed this way heretofore.” As a race we have passed through the grind and gall of slavery, through the bitter struggles of the Civil War and acquitted ourselves like men and women. We enter upon the activities of a new life hampered on every side, but thank God we have made good.
But today is a new day. Not only a new day for the Negro Race, but a new day for peoples of the world. Men and Women alike aroused to thought, to action, to prayer as never before.
It can plainly be seen that this is preeminently Woman’s Age, and she is steadily coming into her own. The call to Woman is loud and long. To women of great ability and to women who fee that they have no ability at all. To women trained and untrained.. God is calling woman to come to a knowledge of Him “Whom to know aright is life eternal,” and then to go into the cities and towns and help struggling humanity. Calling us because of our relationship with Him, because we are the homemakers, the wives, the mothers, the great fountain from which purity must spring, yea, the very salt of the earth; and He is saying to us in the language of the poet, “Awake, Awake, put on thy strength, thy beautiful array; the day of freedom dawns at length, the Lord’s appointed day.”
The close of this dreadful war will usher in a new era for the Negro people of this country. Are we preparing ourselves? Much of the responsibility of preparedness rests with the womanhood of the race. There are enough of us, we have ability, intelligence, loyalty and love; but we are still too divided. The only way we can ever hope to succeed is by banding ourselves together as a unit. Every State in the Union ought to be organized and become a part of the national body.
The educated, trained Negro woman, whether trained in the school house or by personal effort, owes it to her less fortunate sister to join hands with her in the struggle for a better womanhood, better homes, a better community life, — a united struggle for equality before the law, to down race discrimination, segregation, jimcrowism, mob violence, and lynch law. But it must be pull one, pull all, pull long and all together and it is certainly worth the struggle.
OUR LOYALTY AS AMERICANS
America is now into one of the most dreadful wars the world has ever known. The attempt has been made to brand the Negro. But no honest person white or black, could possibly doubt the loyalty of the Negro in the present war. “Actions speak louder than words,” hence epochs in the past history of the Negro speak for themselves. He has been true in every crisis, even when the struggle was to keep him in bondage, he acquitted himself as I believe no other race could have done under the circumstances. In the Spanish American War he was among the first to shed his blood, and in the recent struggle with Mexico his blood first soaked the soil. Yes, the first day Crispus Attucks fell on Boston Common up to the present war, the Negro has proven himself a true American, a lover of freedom and true democracy. Do you ask me why he suffers and dies for America when America offers him such poor protection? My answer is, because it is his home, he knows no other country, no other flag. Our quarrel with America as one has expressed it is a family quarrel and must be settled at home. No German, no other race need try to help in the settlement of our differences. We are determined to forget, to bury every injustice done us until the war is over; and then we shall keep up the old struggle of Right against Wrong.
WAR WORK IN OUR STATE
We have been trying to ascertain, and still hope in some way to be able to keep a record of all war work as near as possible being done by the women of our own state; to that end we sent several cards to women throughout the state to report to us their findings. Cranford, N.J. was the first to report the work of two organizations: 8000 various kinds of surgical dressing, 12 pairs of hospital bed socks, 4 suits of pajamas, 6 hospital bed shirts, 6 scarfs, 6 sweaters, 12 wash-cloths, assisted Red Cross Benefit that netted $181.00.