Reverend Florence Spearing Randolph (1866-1951)

By Amanda Beecher, Associate Professor, Ramapo State College

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

Member of the Executive Committee of New Jersey’s Suffrage Association, President of the New Jersey State Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs

Rev. Dr. Florence Spearing Randolph was born on August 9, 1866 in Charleston, SC into one of the few African-American families that were free before the Civil War.[1] She graduated from Charleston’s Avery Normal Institute before becoming a dressmaker.[1] She moved to Jersey City, NJ in 1885 when she discovered, on a trip to visit her sister, that she could earn nearly three times the wages for her work. She married Hugh Randolph of Richmond, VA in 1884,[2] who worked as a cook on a Pullman Company train and died in 1913 [1]. They had one child Leah Viola in 1887.[3]

Rev. Randolph joined the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union in 1892, which combined social reform with Christian principles,[1] which were pillars of Rev. Randolph’s work throughout her life. She secured a license to preach in 1897, was ordained a deacon in 1900, served as a delegate to the Third Methodist Ecumenical Conference in London in 1901 [7], and became an elder in 1903 in the African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Zion church.[4] She worked in many different A.M.E. Zion churches in New York and New Jersey during the next 12 years, never collecting a salary as part of those duties.[1]

By 1915, Rev. Randolph belonged to many organizations whose mission was to improve the lives of people and reduce social inequalities. She organized the New Jersey State Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs in 1915,[3] and served as President for 12 years. She was the President of the Missionary Society of New Jersey.[3] She also sat on the Executive Committee of New Jersey’s Suffrage Association, in 1917, whose work culminated in the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920.[3]

She traveled throughout Liberia and Gold Coast (now Ghana) between 1922 and 1924 in her efforts to expand foreign missions. [7] This work was inspired by her maternal grandmother who had over 25 years of city missionary work. [2]

In 1926 Rev. Randolph enrolled in Drew University, making her the first African-American woman to do so [5] and the University offers a Theological School prize in her name.[6] In 1933 Rev. Randolph was the first woman to be awarded an honorary doctor of divinity degree from Livingstone College in North Carolina.[1]

In November 1940, she was invited to a Centennial Conference held in New York City “to commemorate the Woman’s Century ( 1840-1940) and to plan wisely and well for the People’s Century to Come ( 1940-2040)” making her one of eighteen from New Jersey.

She served as the pastor of Wallace Chapel A.M.E. Zion Church in Summit, New Jersey from 1925 -1946.[3] When she joined the 35-member mission church, it did not have a physical building. She grew the congregation substantially and built a red brick chapel that is still in use today. Upon retirement in 1946, she left the church debt-free.[1] She died on December 28,1951.[3]

Her work as an African-American woman, preacher, missionary, and social activist had a tremendous impact on Summit, New Jersey. Her contributions to American history are included in the African-American History Museum in Washington, DC, New Jersey Women’s Heritage Trail with a marker at Wallace Chapel, and in the Summit Historical Society. She provides one of the few great collections of early African-American women’s sermons through the preservation efforts of her family. There is a collection of her papers, memorabilia, and photographs at The New Jersey Historical Society. [2] A special collection is housed at the Rutgers University Library. [7] A collection of her sermons was published in Daughters of Thunder by Bettye Collier-Thomas. [8]


[1] Hageman, R.A. “The Rev. Florence Randolph: Pastor of Wallace Chapel Helped Spearhead Women’s Suffrage,” Summit, NJ Historical Society. Apr 2011.

[2] Manuscript Group 1321, Florence Spearing Randolph (1866-1951), African Methodist Episcopal minister, New Jersey Historical Society, Newark, NJ.

[3] Lombardi, P. “Black History NJ: Florence Spearing Randolph” Best of NJ. Feb 2016.

[4] NJWH: New Jersey Women’s History. “Florence Spearing Randolph” Alice Paul Institute, 2014.

[5] Weisenfeld, J., Newman R., eds., This Far by Faith: Readings in African-American Women’s Religious Biography (New York: Routledge, 1995).

[6] Drew University. “Reverend Florence Spearing Randolph Prize”

[7] Zimmerman, C.B. “Inventory to the Records of the Women’s Project of New Jersey, 1984-2004” Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University Libraries, Apr 2008.

[8] Collier-Thomas, B. “Daughters of Thunder: Black Women Preachers and Their Sermons, 1850-1979” (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1997).