CLIFFORD, CARRIE WILLIAMS, (Sept. 1862- 10 Nov. 1934) was a noted orator, poet, suffragist, and an activist for women and AFRICAN AMERICANS. She helped found the Ohio State Federation of Colored Women in 1900 and served as its first president while she lived in Cleveland.
Clifford was born in Chillicothe, Ohio. Her maternal grandparents, Charles and Martha Allen, had been slaves in Alabama who bought their freedom after the War of 1812, and managed to buy a house near Chillicothe. Clifford’s mother, Mary E. Allen married Joshua T. Williams, and the family moved to Columbus shortly after Carrie was born. Clifford was educated in Columbus, graduating from the integrated public high school. She then went to teach school in Parkersburg, West Virginia, before returning home to work in her mother’s hairdressing business.
In 1886, she married Ohio state legislator WILLIAM H. CLIFFORD and moved to Cleveland. The couple had two sons, Joshua and Maurice.
Clifford supported her husband’s political efforts as a member of the Republican Women’s Executive Committee of Cleveland. She was also a member of the National Association of Colored Women (NACW), elected third recording secretary in 1899. By 1901, she founded the Ohio Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs (OFCWC) and served as its first president. She also founded and edited the Federation’s official publication, The Queen's Garden, and Sowing for Others to Reap, a Federation-sponsored compilation of essays.
Clifford’s belief in the transformative capacity of literature informed her fight for Black women’s equality. Together with Harriet Price, a local schoolteacher, she founded the Minerva Reading Club. Clifford served as editor of the women's department of the CLEVELAND JOURNAL, and a contributing editor to Alexander’s Magazine, both black newspapers. Among her publications was an essay entitled "Cleveland and its Colored People" (Colored American, July 1905).
In 1907, Clifford and her sons moved to Washington D.C. to join her husband who received a position in the Treasury Department. There, Clifford continued her political activism, getting involved in suffrage work and even marched at the famous 1913 Washington D.C. Suffrage Parade. Clifford also recruited African American women to the Niagara Movement, a predecessor of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF COLORED PEOPLE (NAACP).
Clifford continued her literary work, publishing two volumes of poetry, Race Rhymes (1911) and The Widening Light (1922) and served the local and national NAACP. She was buried in WOODLAND CEMETERY in Cleveland.
Updated by Einav Rabinovitch-Fox
Cahill, Cathleen D. Recasting the Vote: How Women of Color Transformed the Suffrage Movement (UNC Press, 2020)