Honoring boldness and courage: Suffragists society salutes first women to register to vote in county

Mike Wolanin | The Republic Roxanne Stallworth, left, and Paulette Roberts unveil a marker honoring Black suffragists Lizzie Hubbard and Fannie Davis at Second Baptist Church in Columbus, Ind., Saturday, May 14, 2022. Hubbard and Davis were the first two women registered to vote in Bartholomew County after the Partial Suffrage Act of 1917.

The great-granddaughter of one of the first two women to ever register to vote in Bartholomew County in 1917 referenced a time more than a century ago and asked listeners to consider their firm resolve as being a double minority in an age when diversity had yet to become a celebrated concept.

She pointed out that they were female and African American.

Kathy Holder Hayes of Indianapolis considered that adversity Saturday afternoon after a ceremony to unveil a historical marker at Columbus’ Second Baptist Church honoring great grandmother Lizzie Hubbard and also Fannie Davis. The women attended Second Baptist, a predominantly Black church.

Hayes smiled at their chutzpah.

“They must have really had quite a commitment,” Hayes said. “And I really appreciate their boldness and their courage.”

An applauding crowd of about 40 people, including Mary Ferdon, Columbus executive director of administration and community development, seemed to appreciate that as well. Ferdon read a proclamation naming the day in their honor.

The Bartholomew County Centennial Suffragette Society spearheaded the push for the marker as part of the National Women’s Suffrage Marker Grant Program. The local pair registered after the Partial Suffrage Act of 1917.

The suffrage marker grant program program was founded by the National Collaborative for Women’s History Sites and the William G. Pomeroy Foundation. It commemorates “places where local grassroots activity took place, thereby recognizing the remarkable efforts of the foremothers who fought to win women the right to vote which will inspire women to vote today.”

“It’s been so much fun for me to learn about these two women,” said Betsy Siegman, who did research along with help from people such as Cate Hyatt to spotlight the suffragists’ work. The duo were highlighted in 2020 when the local suffragette society organized a parade marking the centennial of the national right for women to vote. The parade wound past Second Baptist back then as a salute to the two history makers.

Siegman mentioned that both women lived just down the block from the church at the corner of Ninth and Reed streets. Hubbard was 52 at the time of their bold move and Davis was 40.

Event emcee Lesley Bradley organized the get-together and wrote the grant for the marker.

As part of Saturday’s program, Columbus resident Stella Collins read suffragist Sojourner Truth mid-1800s poem “Ain’t I a Woman?” It includes the lines, “Where does your Christ come from? Man had nothing to do with him.”

Stephanie Carmer, a member of the Columbus/Bartholomew County Area Chapter of the NAACP’s Women in NAACP Comittee, spoke about how many states are adding restrictions targeting minority voters in 2022.

“Black women and other women of color are still disadvantaged at the polls,” Carmer said.

She added that citizens of today must honor Hubbard and Davis’ leadership of yesteryear by making sure that women can vote easily enough with transportation to the polls and more.

Several women at the gathering wore the garb of local and national suffragists: a white dress with a purple, yellow and white sash reading “Votes for Women.” Local residents Paulette Roberts and Roxanne Stallworth dressed as Hubbard and Davis, and were given the task of unveiling the marker at the church entrance.

The marker reads: “Second Baptist members Lizzie Hubbard and Fannie Davis, first women registered to vote in Bartholomew County after the Partial Suffrage Act of 1917.”