Mary Burnett Talbert

Lived:September 17, 1866—October 15, 1923 (aged 57)
Education:B.A., Oberlin College

Mary Burnett Talbert was an African American civil rights and anti-lynching activist and suffragist.

Talbert was born on September 17, 1866, in Oberlin, Ohio. She received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Oberlin College in 1886, the only African American woman in her graduating class. After college, she was a teacher at Bethel University in Little Rock, Arkansas, then became assistant principal of Union High School in Little Rock, the highest position held by an African American woman in the state. In 1891 she moved to Buffalo, New York, after marrying William H. Talbert.

In 1899, Talbert was a founding member of the Phyllis Wheatley Club of Colored Women, Buffalo’s first affiliate of the National Association of Colored Women (NACW), later called the National Association of Colored Women's Clubs (NACWC). In 1901, Talbert lectured at the Biennial Conference of the NACW in Buffalo. In 1908, she was a charter member of the Empire State Federation of Colored Women, eventually serving as parliamentarian and president. She served as president of the NACWC from 1916 to 1921, and in 1920 represented the organization as the first African American delegate to the International Council of Women at their fifth congress in Norway, presenting lectures on race relations and women's rights across Europe.

Talbert protested the exclusion of African Americans from the 1901 Pan-American Exposition Planning Commission, calling for the appointment of an African American board member and an exhibit on the lives of African Americans. In 1905, Talbert was a founder of the Niagara Movement, precursor to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and in 1910, she co-founded Buffalo's first NAACP chapter. She was a board member and vice president of the NAACP from 1919 until her death in 1923, and served as national director of the NAACP Anti-Lynching Campaign in 1921. She was the first woman to be awarded the NAACP's Spingarn Medal, its highest honor.

During World War I, Talbert served as a Red Cross nurse and YMCA secretary in France, offered classes to African American soldiers, and served on the Women's Committee of National Defense. After the war, she served on the Women's Committee on International Relations, which selected women nominees for positions in the League of Nations.

Talbert died on October 15, 1923.