1919: The National Association of Colored Women, Mary B. Talbert, and France

Sunday, January 6, 2019: 11:00 AM
Monroe Room (Palmer House Hilton)
Brandy Thomas Wells, Oklahoma State University
Even in her brief stay in France, Mary B. Talbert was proud to be the oldest woman secretary for the Young Men’s Christian Association and a Red Cross nurse servicing the U.S. military. She was also the last in these groups to be granted permission to travel abroad to care for Black troops. As president of the National Association of Colored Women (NACW), she sought this employment to cultivate support in Europe for the improvement of Black lives. In this paper, I analyze Talbert’s efforts to introduce discussions about race and racism within postwar meetings, especially those of transnational women’s organizations, and I explore how disappointment and disillusionment led her and others to cultivate a distinctly African American feminist internationalism. After Talbert missed the presentation of the Women’s Division of the Peace Council before the League of Nations and was slighted at Zurich meeting of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, she decisively turned to her own agenda. Accompanied by Helen Curtis, Talbert could claim the NACW had spent the 1919 summer pursing peace and promise, which meant socializing with the leaders of independent Black nations, dining with members of the French Senate, and establishing contact with organizations like the National Council of Women in France. This paper shows that Talbert sought to take up her 1919 activism within postwar transnational networks, but that as a matter of principle and methodology, she did not remain bound by these structures and soon took her activism throughout France.
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