Hester Jeffrey

Lived:January 1, 1842—January 2, 1934 (aged 92)

Hester Jeffrey was a prominent African American suffragist, activist and community leader.

Jeffrey was born in 1842 in Norfolk City, Virginia, to Robert and Martha Whitehurst Smith, both free African Americans. Her parents sent her and her siblings to live in Boston with her uncle, whose home acted as a stop on the Underground Railroad. From an early age, Jeffrey was introduced to some of the leading minds in abolition, like William Lloyd Garrison. At the age of 23, she married Roswell Jerome Jeffrey. The couple had four children, though none survived childhood. The pair moved to Rochester, New York, in 1891 where they became much more involved in politics.

Jeffrey and her husband rented rooms in the home of a prominent Republican official and civil rights activist, which helped her build a network of contacts across the state. Most notably, Jeffrey became good friends with Susan B. Anthony and eventually eulogized her at Anthony’s funeral in 1906. Jeffrey was also extremely involved with many suffragist, advocacy and activist organizations in the Rochester area, including the Rochester Political Equality Club, the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union and the Local Council of Women. She founded the Climbers and the Busy Bees, clubs for African American children; the Hester C. Jeffrey Women’s Club, which paid for African American girls to take classes at what is now the Rochester Institute of Technology; and the Hester C. Jeffrey Industrial Association, which oversaw a home for Black girls.

In the early 1900s, Jeffrey helped revitalize the National Afro-American Council, a predecessor to the NAACP; founded the Susan B. Anthony Club, which agitated for Black women’s suffrage; and joined the New York Federation of Colored Women and the New York State Woman Suffrage Association. She also served as the corresponding secretary to the Flower City Council of the Society of Afro-Americans and represented the National Association of Colored Women in a bid to make the University of Rochester coeducational.

After the death of her husband in 1908, Jeffrey moved back to Boston and slowed down her activism. She died on January 2, 1934.

Goodier, Susan. Biographical Sketch of Hester C. Whitehurst Jeffrey. Alexandria, VA: Alexander Street, 2018. https://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/bibliographic_entity%7Cbibliographic_details%7C3935904

Goodier, Susan and Karen Pastorello. Women Will Vote: Winning Suffrage in New York State. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2017.