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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.

She was born Mary Burnett in Oberlin, Ohio, the daughter of Cornelius and Caroline Nicholls Burnett.  Burnett graduated from Oberlin High School at 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.  In 1887, Burnett became the first Black woman to be selected as Assistant Principal of Little Rock High School.

In 1891, she married William H. Talbert, a Buffalo, New York businessman. 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 Woman to receive the NAACP’s Spingarn Award. Mary Burnett Talbert died in Buffalo, New York, on October 15, 1923, at 57.


Women of the

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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