Thursday, March 7, 2019

Hettie Blonde Tilghman (1873-1933): African-American suffragist; NAACP President

Hettie Tilghman (photo Oakland Tribune) and her grave
Plot 55

Hettie Blonde Tilghman was born in San Francisco in 1873 to early pioneers Captain John Jones and his wife Rebecca. Her father was in charge of ammunition and rifles for the San Francisco Vigilante Committee housed at The Armory. She was the youngest of three daughters and attended school in San Francisco, where she lived until she was about fourteen years old. [Some sources list her birth as 1871].

Around 1887, her family relocated to Oakland, where she would remain for the rest of her life. In 1890, she married Charles F. Tilghman and they moved in with his mother, Lucinda. At the time of her marriage, she was an organist and secretary of the Bethel A.M.E. Church of San Francisco. The couple had two children, Hilda and Charles.

In addition to her involvement in the church, she ran a private language school out of her San Francisco home, where her parents were still living. It was in this home that she taught English to local Chinese students. 

Hettie retired from teaching shortly after Hilda's birth. After Charles and Hilda enrolled in school, Hettie became active in public life once again, participating in a variety of clubs and community building projects. She also served on the board of the Home for Aged and Infirm Colored People, which was opened in 1897 near Mills College. In 1917, she was elected president of the California State Federation of Colored Women's Clubs, a post she held until 1919.

Hettie Tilghman had a lifelong commitment to service for the African-American community. Tilghman became the financial secretary for the Northern Federation of California Colored Women's Clubs after its creation in 1913. The Northern Federation was an organization composed of Northern California's many arts, education, and advancement clubs created by and for women of color. This organization was largely in response to the widespread exclusion of non-whites from existing groups. 

Fannie Wall Children's Home
Tilghman worked closely with civic leader and activist Fannie Wall, raising money between 1914 to 1918 to fund the opening of the Fannie Wall Children's Home and Day Nursery in West Oakland – the only daycare and orphanage facility available to children of color in that area at the time. After the success of the first Children's Home in meeting the needs of lower-class children and families, Tilghman worked to launch and manage a "Colored" YWCA establishment, and contributed to the operation of a second children's care facility. This second facility was one that required significantly more capital to open so this is an impressive accomplishment. The YWCA served African-American members by providing academic and occupational training, as well as entertainment and special events for younger girls. The second location for the Children's Home was ultimately taken over by the Oakland Redevelopment Authority.

During WWI, she also raised money and collected the names of all of the black soldiers who had been drafted into the war and organized the first reception for "colored troops," as the Oakland Tribune referred to them at the time.

In the 1920s, Tilghman took on a major leadership role alongside African-American women in the League of Women Voters (LWV), and was chosen to be president of the Alameda County League of Colored Women Voters. In both organizations, Tilghman advocated for laws that would address the unique needs of women and children. 

Daughter Hilda Tilgman (Image: SF Call)
She was also elected president of the Fannie Wall Children's Home and Day Nursery in the early 1920s. Around the same time she also took charge of the Oakland branch of the NAACP. Thirty-six years after her death, her son Charles was honored by the NAACP for his contributions to the organization. He owned a printing business in Oakland. In 1906, her daughter Hilda led the effort to raise money to help restore African-American chruches destroyed by the earthquake and fire, as well as assist with the rebuilding of homes within the community.

Throughout the 1920s, she was active in the women's suffrage movement, and her political involvement continued until her death in Alameda in September 1933.

Sources: The Negro Trail Blazers of California (1919), Biography of Hettie Blonde Tilghman  by Pat Roberts, Oakland Tribune,, San Francisco Call

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