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Mary Morris Burnett Talbert

Born on 9-17-1866. She was born in Oberlin, OH. She was accomplished in the area of Community. She later died on 10-15-1923.
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Mary Morris Burnett was born in 1866 and educated at Oberlin College. Following her graduation in 1886 from Oberlin at the age of 19, Ms. Burnett moved to Little Rock, Arkansas, where she accepted a position as a high school teacher. According to her biographer, Lillian S. Williams, Ph.D., Ms. Burnett taught history, math, science, Latin and geography at Bethel University before being appointed the school's Assistant Principal. Ms. Williams noted, "She was the only woman ever to be selected for this position." In 1887, Mary Burnett was named principal of Union High School in Little Rock. While her abilities and talents as an educator and orator were recognized nationally as well as in Little Rock, according to the custom of the time, Ms. Burnett was forced to give up her teaching career once she married. Her marriage to William Herbert Talbert, a City of Buffalo clerk and realtor, took place on September 8, 1891. The Talbert's only daughter, Sarah May was born in 1892.

Mary Talbert soon settled into the communal life of her new home. She joined her husband as a member of the Michigan Avenue Baptist Church and quickly began to organize educational and cultural programs for church and community members alike. She was the president of the church's Christian Cultural Congress, the vehicle for many cultural and educational activities. While many of the programs were organized for the education and development of black women, Mrs. Talbert did not limit her activities to the church. In 1899, she became one of the founding members of the Phyllis Wheatley Club of Colored Women. This remarkable group of women, the city's first affiliate of the National Association of Colored Women's Clubs, set an ambitious program of service to others in order to achieve the NACW mission and emulate the Club motto, "Lifting as we climb".

It is often noted in her biographies that Mary Talbert was the first black woman to receive a Ph.D. from the University at Buffalo. However, this fact has never been proven conclusively. According to Williams, the University did not offer Ph.D. degrees before 1930, but it did offer certificates that were called doctorates. It is possible that Mary Talbert could have received one of these doctorate certificates leading to the confusion over the actual credentials.

In November 1900, Mary Talbert, along with other members of the Phyllis Wheatley Club of Colored Women, organized a protest rally at the Michigan Avenue Baptist Church. They called on the Board of Managers of the Pan American Exposition to include the Negro Exhibit, an exhibit that presented the achievements of blacks since Emancipation, in the upcoming Exposition. The group also advocated for the appointment of a colored commissioner. Mary Talbert was proposed as a most able and capable individual to represent the Negro community in this position.

Photo of Mary Talbert from the Competitor, February 1920

Photo of Mary Talbert is from
the Competitor, February 1920.

Mary Talbert's advocacy for black women included her involvement in and leadership of several organizations, in addition to the Phyllis Wheatley Club of Colored Women. In 1905, she opened her home to Dr. W.E.B. Dubois, John Hope, Monroe Trotter, and others who founded and organized the Niagara Movement, forerunner of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. In 1911, she became a charter member of the Empire Federation of Women's Clubs, and the group's second president from 1912-1916.

In 1916, she was elected President of the National Association of Colored Women's Clubs. She was elected to a second two-year term as President of that organization in 1918. During her tenure as NACW President, Mary Talbert was instrumental in the preservation and restoration of the Frederick Douglass Home in Anacostia.

During World War I, Mary Talbert was active in the war bond drives, personally soliciting thousands of dollars in Liberty Bonds. Further, she served as American Red Cross Nurse with the American Expeditionary Forces in France. She also served as a delegate to the International Council of Women in Christiania, Norway in 1920. She was a national and international public figure who was a sought after speaker for her lectures on race relations, anti-lynching and women's rights. Her tireless efforts on the behalf of African American people earned her the NAACP Spingarn Award. Mary Burnett Talbert was the first black woman to be honored with this prestigious recognition.

Mary Talbert died in 1923. She is buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery in the Talbert family plot.