Woodbey for Regent! When the Nebraska Prohibition Party nominated a Black woman in 1895

At the Nebraska Prohibition Party’s statewide convention in 1895, held in July in Lincoln, C. E. Bentley (who was to be a Prohibition candidate for president in 1896) nominated Anna R. (Mrs. George W.) Woodbey of Douglas County for university regent. Regents were then elected on partisan ballots in odd-numbered years. The Prohibition newspaper, Our Nation’s Anchor (Lincoln), on July 20, reported, “Mrs. Woodbey is, we think, the first Negro woman ever honored with a nomination on a state ticket by any political party in the United States.” 

   Our Nation’s Anchor briefly summarized Mrs. Woodbey’s background and qualifications for the office of regent. A native of Pennsylvania, she “lived for some years during her early life in Canada and Michigan where she attended school. Removing to Kansas in 1871 where she was married to G. W. Woodbey [later ordained a Baptist minister] November 13, 1873.”

   Mrs. Woodbey began to speak publicly “while yet a child on religious and historical subjects, as well as suffrage and temperance. Speaking in Wichita,and Atchison, Kansas, St. Joseph, Mo., and after [her husband’s] taking charge of the Baptist church in Omaha in 1883, she often fills the pulpit for her husband during his absence. . . . As president of the Woman’s Home and Foreign Missionary Society connected with the Nebraska and Iowa Baptist association and vice president of the Negro Woman’s Club of Omaha, she is busy along the lines of religion and reform. 

   “As a speaker Mrs. Woodbey is even more impressing and entertaining than her husband, who is considered an orator. . . . She should be elected for she is capable and would honor the position. . . . She has been a member of the W.C.T.U. for the last ten years, being the only Negro woman connected with the local W.C.T.U. of which she is a member and served for some years as its president and has been a delegate to several state conventions of the organization at Fremont and York. She was also a member of the Woman’s Suffrage convention at Hastings, Neb., and was one of the speakers. She devoted several weeks to the famous Nebraska amendment campaign [in 1890].” 

   Anna Woodbey was unsuccessful in her bid to become a member of the University of Nebraska Board of Regents. Women could not vote in 1895, and the Prohibition Party in Nebraska was generally too outnumbered to elect even its white, male candidates. Nevertheless, Our Nation’s Anchor on November 30 reported her statewide vote total to be 6,225. Fellow Prohibition nominee for regent, Josiah J. Bryant, received 869. 

   The “famous Nebraska amendment campaign” mentioned by Our Nation’s Anchor on July 20 was a failed attempt in 1890 to vote prohibition into the state constitution by means of a proposed constitutional amendment. During this campaign Mrs. Woodbey’s husband ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor on the Prohibition Party ticket. He was also the party’s candidate for Congress in 1894. 

   Anna Woodbey continued her work in the Prohibition Party, serving as an alternate delegate from Douglas County to the party’s state convention in Lincoln in 1896. Her husband later left the party to join the Populists, supporting the fusion ticket and William Jennings Bryan’s failed 1900 presidential campaign. After the election he became a socialist and in 1902, moved to California, where he continued his efforts on behalf of the Socialist Party. 

—Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor for Research and Publications

(February 2011)

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