Skip to main content

1887: Woman’s Suffrage: A Potent Agency in Public Reforms


Photo portrait of Mary E Britton

 “Woman of the nineteenth century is not keeping silence in the church, home or society.

Kentucky educator, journalist, social reformer, and physician Dr. Mary E. Britton (1855–1925) attended Berea College in the 1870s. For more than twenty years she worked as a public school teacher, supplementing her income by writing for local and regional newspapers. Britton left teaching in 1897 to work at the Battle Creek Sanitarium in Michigan, then studied at the the American Medical Missionary College. After graduating in 1902, Britton returned to her home town of Lexington, where she became the first licensed African American female to practice medicine. 

In print and through public speaking, Britton challenged the racism and sexism of her day. Her July 7, 1887 speech, "Woman’s Suffrage: A Potent Agency in Public Reforms," is a noteworthy example. The address was delivered at a state-wide gathering of teachers in Danville and published in the July 22, 1887 issue of The American Catholic Tribune. To read a transcription, follow this H-Kentucky link.