Bessie Brown Mention (1873-1946)
By Lisa Hendrickson, Independent Historian
This biographical sketch was first published on the Online Biographical Dictionary of the Woman Suffrage Movement in the United States and appears here by permission. That database is accessible at https://documents.alexanderstreet.com/VOTESforWOMEN
Welfare advocate, President of the New Jersey Colored Women Republican Voters
Bessie S. Brown, born in 1873, was one of four children including one sister Aurella and two brothers, Walter and Frederick. Her father was from Virginia and her mother from New Jersey. On March 19, 1896, she married George M. Mention, born in 1871 in North Carolina. Initially records show the couple lived at 8 Green Street in Princeton, NJ, but by 1922 they were living at 126 Nassau Street in Princeton. Her occupation was listed as a dressmaker and her husband owned a cleaning and pressing establishment. They did not have any children.
Unfortunately not a lot was written about her life. She was active in welfare work, especially related to migrant workers. She was a member of the Migrant Welfare Commission which studied working conditions of Negro workers.
Many of her documented activities in the suffrage movement were connected to her involvement as a member of the New Jersey Women’s Republican Club (NJWRC). In 1920, she attended a luncheon at the Robert Treat Hotel in Newark, NJ for the NJWRC where Mrs. E.F. Feickert was elected president. During her address, Mrs. Feickert said, “300 New Jersey women took an active part in electing Warren G. Harding, 918 meetings were held by women, for women voters; 873 automobiles were contributed for use on election day by members of the women’s division; approximately 340,000 women, or nearly eighty percent of the female population of the State voted the Republican ticket.” In June of 1922, Bessie attended a class to instruct women in public speaking, given by the Republican campaign school which was conducted by Mrs. Jennie C. Van Ness. As a member of the Mercer County Women, she publically supported the candidate, Mrs. Bessie R. Mann who ran for New Jersey State Assembly in 1922. Bessie stated in an article published on October 15, 1924, in the Newark Evening News, “I am still for Mrs. Feickert 100 percent and I shall continue my state activities in organizing the women of my race as zealously as before.”
Because colored women were not welcomed into many suffragists groups and clubs, they started their own organizations. One of the first was the Colored Women’s Republican Club (CWRC) which was founded in Denver in 1894 by Elizabeth Ensley and Ida DePriest. Florence Randolph began to organize Republican clubs in New Jersey by creating the first statewide political conference of black women in 1920. New Jersey’s black women gathered in Plainfield, NJ in May of 1922 for the “record breaking” Colored Women’s Political Conference. There, two hundred delegates from seventeen counties gathered together to organize county and local units across the state and elected Florence Randolph president. By 1939 there were approximately 71 clubs of black Republican women across the country. Bessie was the state chairman of the Republican Women’s Colored Conference in 1924.
Another prominent organization was the New Jersey Colored Republican Women Voters (NJCRWV) and Bessie was its president from 1926-1929. The group held its 20th quarterly meeting in 1926 in Salem, NJ and at the meeting she reported that it was one of the most successfully meetings ever held. Lillian F. Feickert also spoke at the meeting and discussed opportunities for women to serve in politics. In 1928, as the leader of the NJCRWV, Bessie posted a notice in the Trenton Evening Times announcing that their quarterly conference would be held in Atlantic City in conjunction with the spring conference of the New Jersey Women’s Republican Club. She presided over a meeting the NJCRWV held in Atlantic City, NJ in 1929. Members in attendance went on record as approving the reapportionment bill before Congress and also the enforcement of the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments. Discussions were held at this meeting covering topics including, “Why Women Should be in Politics,” “Why Colored Women Should Stand Together and Fight for Recognition,” and “How to Build a Larger and Better Conference.” The Conference of Colored Republican Women Voters annually gave a scholarship to fund the expenses of a student at the Bordentown Industrial School.
In addition to her involvement in many organizations, she participated in politics as a Republican delegate and also ran for local office. At the Republican National Convention in 1928, she was the alternate delegate from New Jersey. She ran for a spot on the Republican County Committee in the Sixth District in 1929 and in 1931 she ran as a Republican for a seat on the county committee in the Fifth District but lost to Mrs. Carrie D. Pannell by a wide margin.
By 1940, Bessie, a widow, was living at 80 Pennington Avenue in Trenton, NJ. She died on May 17, 1946 after a long illness and is buried at Riverview Cemetery in Trenton.
- Federal Census: 1910, 1940
- NJ State Census: 1905
- US Cities & Directories 1822-1995
“Many Mercer Women at G.O.P. Luncheon,” Trenton Evening Times, (Trenton, NJ), December 8, 1920, pg. 10.
“Segregating the Races” letter to the editor, Trenton Evening Times, June 15, 1921, pg. 6.
“Anti-Lynching Bill,” letter to the editor, Trenton Evening Times, March 15, 1922, pg. 6.
“To Instruct Women,” Trenton Evening Times, June 27, 1922, pg. 1.
“Mercer County Women Urge 100% Support for Mrs. Mann,” Trenton Evening Times, November 6, 1922, pg. 21.
“Voters’ Conference Reported Success, “Trenton Evening Times, November 12, 1926, pg. 4.
“Colored Women Have Convention at Shore,” Trenton Evening Times, April 30, 1927, pg. 16.
“Colored G.O.P. Women Will Meet at Shore,” Trenton Evening Times, May 24, 1928, pg. 3.
“Republicans’ Ticket Endorsed by Club,” Trenton Evening Times, August 15, 1928, pg. 24.
“Measure Endorsed by Colored Women, Trenton Evening Times, May 19, 1929, pg. 5.
“Hoff is Believed Sure of Election,” Trenton Evening Times, April 24, 1931, pg. 2.
“Migrant Welfare Commissioners Begin to Ave $50 Weekly,” Trenton Evening Times, September 26, 1931, pg. 2.
“Mrs. Bessie B. Mention,” Sunday Times-Advertiser, Trenton, NJ, May 19, 1946, part four/pg. 5.
Freeman, Jo, A Room at a Time: How Women Entered Party Politics, (Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2002), pg. 162. https://books.google.com/books?isbn=084769805X
Adams, Betty Livingston, Black Women’s Christian Activism: Seeking Social Justice in a Northern Suburb, (New York University Press, 2018), pg. 109-111. https://books.google.com/books?isbn=1479814814