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Tue, 09.18.1866

Mary Burnett Talbert, Educator, and Activist born

Mary T. Burnett

*Mary B. Talbert was born on this date in 1866. She was a Black teacher, club woman, and civil rights, activist.

Born Mary Burnett in Oberlin, Ohio, she was the daughter of Cornelius and Caroline Nicholls Burnett.  Burnett graduated from Oberlin High School at the age of sixteen and in 1886 graduated from Oberlin College with a degree in Literature.  Shortly afterward, Burnett accepted a teaching position at Bethel University in Little Rock, Arkansas, and quickly rose in the Jim Crow segregated educational bureaucracy of the city.  In 1887, Burnett became the first Black woman to be selected Assistant Principal of Little Rock High School.

In 1891, she married William H. Talbert, a businessman from Buffalo, New York. She resigned from her position at Little Rock High School and moved to her husband’s hometown. One year later Mary B. and William Talbert gave birth to their only child, a daughter, Sarah May Talbert. Over the next thirty years, Mary Talbert established herself as an accomplished public and civic leader in Buffalo.  In 1899 she became one of the founding members of the Phyllis Wheatley Club of Colored Women, Buffalo’s first affiliate of the National Association of Colored Women (NACW).

In 1905, Talbert discretely hosted Black political activists including W.E.B Du Bois, John Hope, and nearly thirty others around her dining room table for the first meeting of what would eventually become the Niagara Movement, a forerunner to the National Association of Advancement for Colored People (NAACP). Talbert became one of the first women to join the NAACP after its founding in 1909.

In 1916, Talbert was elected President of the National Association of Colored Women (NACW) and the Vice President of the NAACP. In 1917 Talbert became one of a handful of Black Red Cross nurses to serve on the Western Front of Europe after the United States entered World War I.  After World War I, Talbert returned to Europe to lecture on the importance of women’s rights and race relations.

She also became a dedicated advocate of the Dyer Anti–Lynching Bill introduced in 1919 by Missouri Congressman Leonidas Dyer. In 1921 she became chair of the NAACP's Anti–Lynching Committee. The next year, Mary B. Talbert became the first Black Women to receive the NAACP’s Spingarn Award. Mary Burnett Talbert died in Buffalo, New York on October 15, 1923, at the age of 57.

Black Women in America An Historical Encyclopedia
Volumes 1 and 2, edited by Darlene Clark Hine
Copyright 1993, Carlson Publishing Inc., Brooklyn, New York
ISBN 0-926019-61-9

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