June 27th in (Feminist) History

800px-crystal_bird_fausetOn this day in 1894 was the birth of Crystal Bird Fauset, who was the first female African-American state legislator in the United States. She was born Crystal Bird in Maryland and raised by an Aunt in Boston, attending public schools and eventually earning her B.S. from Teachers College, Columbia University in 1931. That same year she married Arthur Huff Fauset, who was a fellow educator. (Arthur is pretty interesting too, he was the son of a black man and a white Jewish woman, who became a civil right’s activist, a teacher, and an active figure in the Harlem Renaissance.)

Crystal began her career teaching at in New York at a public school, before she became the field secretary for the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA). It was here that she became more outspoken about race relations and the black community, and eventually joined and became active in numerous civil right’s organizations. In 1925 she was offered a position in the newly formed Interracial Section of the American Friends Service Committee, which was a Quaker-founded organization working towards social justice and peace, including improving race relations in the U.S. As an AFSC member she made 210 public appearances over the course of a year (1927-1928), giving talks and speeches about race relations, and “lift(ing) the curtain that separates the white people and the colored people, to lift the curtain of misunderstanding that is so dividing [them]”. In 1933 she was also named executive secretary of the Institute of Race Relations at Swarthmore College.

It was through her appearances that she became better known to the public, and in 1938 she was elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. She represented the 18th District of Philadelphia, which at the time was a largely white neighborhood. Despite that, she managed to introduce nine bills and three amendments, mostly dealing with women’s workplace rights, housing for people in poverty, and public health. It was during her time as a state legislator that she became friends with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, later helping her gain the position of Assistant Director and Race Relations Director of the Office of Civil Defense. She also advised both the First Lady, and the NYC mayor (Fiorello LaGuardia) on race relations, and was a member of President Roosevelt’s “Black Cabinet”, helping to promote civil rights for African Americans.

After World War II, her focus turned global, and she made numerous trips to the Middle East, India, and Africa. She passed away in Philadelphia in 1965, at the age of 71. A Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission Marker is found outside her old home in Philadelphia; it praises her accomplishments as the first Black woman elected to state legislature.

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