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“They lift as they climb”: Marian Hamilton Spotts and the legacy of Black Women’s Activism

by Lerin Williams, Archival Assistant



Marian H. Spotts at an event for the Once-a-Year project, City Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs, May 29,1950.
Marian H. Spotts at an event for the Once-a-Year project, City Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs, May 29,1950.

Marian Hamilton Spotts understood the power of preservation as a mechanism to inspire others. Moving beyond the desire to instill a sense of community in future generations through her service as an educator, Spotts undertook the charge of documenting the legacies of Black women-led civic organizing in Cincinnati, Ohio. She wrote The History of the Cincinnati Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs, 1904-1952, and ensured visibility for numerous women whose contributions were largely unacknowledged. At times, there was little to no documentation to be found on some of the oldest social organizations; yet Spotts persisted by interviewing, researching and combining primary and secondary sources. Marian H. Spotts compiled a resource that included the histories of fifty-seven civic, social, arts and mutual aid organizations led by Black women.


 

Cover and foreword from The History of the Cincinnati Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs, 1904-1952.


 
Undated letter written by Ida B. Wells, titled “A Voice from the Past.”
Undated letter written by Ida B. Wells, titled “A Voice from the Past.”

Spotts kept a copy of an undated letter typed by Ida B. Wells. This letter details Wells’ accounts of the events that followed her return after spending eight months in England where she raised transnational support for the anti-lynching cause in 1894. According to her letter, Wells served as president of the national organization, which initially had two hundred members. During her anti-lynching campaign in England, the name of the organization was formally changed to the Ida B. Wells Club, and subsequent Black women’s federations and clubs arose. In response to her campaign, Wells writes that W.T. Jacks [John W. Jacks], then president of the Missouri Press Association, denounced Wells’ accounts, and sought to silence all Black women and the agitation against lynching that was spreading on a national and international scale. Upon reading Jacks’ published statements, Mrs. Booker T. Washington proposed a resolution which summoned representatives from all colored women’s clubs to endorse Ida B. Wells’ publications and denounce Jacks. It was adopted by 3,000 people and later resulted in the consolidation of the Colored Women’s Clubs with the Women’s Civic League. Marian Hamilton Spotts sought to understand the power of Black women’s organizing through studying the history of significant shifts brought on by dynamic leaders of our past.

Family portrait of Marian H. Spotts with her husband, Hardin Allen, and son, Roger H. Spotts, courtesy of her granddaughter, Woni Spotts. Used with permission.
Family portrait of Marian H. Spotts with her husband, Hardin Allen, and son, Roger H. Spotts, courtesy of her granddaughter, Woni Spotts. Used with permission.

Marian Hamilton was born in the small town of St. Marys, Ohio on September 10, 1896. She graduated from Wilberforce University in 1916 and continued her studies at Chicago University and Michigan State College. Hamilton served as an elementary school educator in Federalsburg, Maryland for a few years before becoming the supervisor of teachers for Caroline County, Maryland. Returning to her alma mater, Marian Hamilton was employed as a critic teacher and history instructor at Wilberforce University. She was an extremely civically engaged citizen, occupying a variety of positions in diverse associations and organizations. Hamilton Spotts served on the board of directors of the Riverview Neighborhood House; the Hamilton County Welfare Board; the Central Volunteer Bureau Board of Directors; on the Mayor’s Friendly Relations Committee; and as a member of the Cincinnati Public School Committee. Marian was also involved with the local chapter of national organizations such as the Urban League, the YWCA, the NAACP and the Citizen’s Committee of the White House Conference on the education of children and youth. Spotts served three terms as the president of the Cincinnati Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs (1949-1952), as auditor of the Southwest District of Ohio Association of Colored Women’s Clubs and as chair of the Public Relations Committee of the State Association of Colored Women’s Clubs. Marian Hamilton married Hardin A. Spotts and had one son, Roger H. Spotts, who was a serviceman of the United States Army stationed in Okinawa, Japan. In honor of her lifetime of community engagement and service, Marian Hamilton Spotts was recognized as the “Woman of the Year” by Zeta Phi Beta Sorority on March 9, 1952.

Portrait of Marian H. Spotts, courtesy of her granddaughter, Woni Spotts. Used with permission.
Portrait of Marian H. Spotts, courtesy of her granddaughter, Woni Spotts. Used with permission.

The Marian Hamilton Spotts papers include the August 1955 issue of Ebony Magazine, which featured the last will and testament of Mary McLeod Bethune; an article from the 50th anniversary edition of The Chicago Defender; and the aforementioned copy of the undated letter written by Ida B. Wells. In addition, there are letters of correspondence, handwritten speeches, ephemera and reports from the Cincinnati Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs.





 

This project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services [MH-245560-OMS-20]. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this blog post do not necessarily represent those of the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Institute of Museum and Library Services

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