Mary Townsend Seymour

Mary Townsend Seymour

Induction Category:

Born: 1873

Died: 1957

Inducted: 2006

Town: Hartford

Mary Townsend was born in 1873 to Jacob and Emma Townsend. By the time she reached her teenage years, she had lost both of her parents. Just before her mother’s death, Mary was adopted into the family of celebrated Civil War veteran and social activist Lloyd G. Seymour. Shortly thereafter, she became involved in her first act of social advocacy: in June of 1888 she visited Hartford City Hall to review her birth certificates and declared her official name as Mary Emma Townsend Seymour. At such a young age, Seymour had a distinct sense of self and this sense of identity would mark her life of socio-political activism as she became a civil rights champion, rallying other African American men and women to value themselves and their rights. She is celebrated for her commitment to the fight for equal rights and full citizenship for all, regardless of race. In 1891, she married Frederick Seymour, a member of the Lloyd Seymour family.

In the mid- and late-1910s, many African Americans from the southern United States fled to northern cities, including Hartford, looking to escape the hatred and oppression of the South. In Hartford, white residents had largely ignored their black neighbors, but now, with the black population doubling, tensions were beginning to flare. School officials considered segregating the schools, and it was clear that the racism of the South was alive and well in the north. Seymour had married Frederick Seymour, a member of her adoptive family, in 1891 and it was during this time of social change in Hartford that Seymour and her husband opened their home to 20 people (black and white, male and female) and began organizing for civil rights. On October 9, 1917, Hartford’s chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was born with Seymour serving as the organization’s spokesperson.

The years following the foundation of Hartford’s NAACP were some of Seymour’s most active. In 1918, she expanded her community organizing efforts and helped form Hartford’s equal rights advocacy chapter of the Circle for Negro War Relief, Inc. Here, she helped Negro soldiers’ families during the war. Around the same time, she also joined the Colored Women’s League of Hartford. In 1919, when suffragists like Alice Paul were fighting for Congress to pass the 19th amendment giving women the right to vote, Seymour became concerned that the amendment would not include black women. Seymour worked hard to make sure that black women were not being ignored in the fight for women’s liberties.

Around 1920, Seymour joined the Red Cross and worked with African American women laborers in Connecticut’s tobacco warehouses. She and fellow activist Josephine Bennett interviewed female laborers and discovered immense wage discrimination. Seymour and Bennett’s exposé on the subject appeared in the NAACP’s The Crisis in 1920.

In 1920, Seymour became the first African American woman to run for the Connecticut State Assembly. While she did not win, her candidacy as the first African American woman to try for this position cannot go unacknowledged. Seymour’s earnest belief that an end to discrimination was a universal good compelled her to fight tirelessly to unite all people in pursuing equal rights for years to follow. She died in Hartford in 1957 and is buried in Hartford’s Old North Cemetery. Her grave is a site on the Connecticut Freedom Trail. To honor her legacy, in 1997 Mary Seymour Place was opened in Hartford to provide supportive housing for homeless women and children.

During This Time
1921 - 1945: Prosperity, Depression, & War