Mary Richardson Jones, 1820-1910

  • Mary-Richardson-Jones-WWP

Woman Category: Activism & Feminism and PhilanthropyWoman Tags: 19th Amendment Centennial Anniversary, Abolitionist, African-American Women, Chicago Metro Area Women, and Suffragist

  • HerStory

    Abolitionist, women’s rights activist, and philanthropist. A prominent figure in Chicago’s African-American community in the 19th century, operating a station of the underground railroad from her home.

    Born in Memphis, Tennessee, to a free African-American blacksmith. At age 21, she met her future husband, John Jones, who came to the city to be a tailor’s apprentice. Soon after, she moved with her family to Alton, Illinois, and the couple had to separate. Three years later, after completing his apprenticeship requirements, he followed her to Alton, and they got married.
    The following year, after giving birth to her daughter Lavinia, they wanted to move to Chicago, but to do so, they had to post a $1000 bond for their certificate of freedom, which allowed them to travel as free people. They were among the only 140 black people in the city. Shortly after they settled in, her husband opened a small tailoring shop – the first establishment owned by an African-American. Over time, the business grew and served many of the city’s elite.
    The Joneses dedicated their lives to fight for freedom, equality, and justice, and together they became leading figures in the abolitionist movement. Their home in 116 Edinah street was a gathering place as well as the second stop of the underground railroad, helping hundreds of escaped slaves on their way to Canada. The couple was among the founders of Olivet Baptists church – the second oldest church in Chicago. They donated money for various causes and land to build a school for their community. After the Civil War, she joined the suffrage movement, one of the first African-American women to advocate for their right to vote. She died at the age of 89. Her gravestone reads ‘Grandma Jones’ – a commemoration of her status within the community.

    More Interesting Anecdotes:

    • Her husband, John Jones, was the first African American elected to public office in Chicago.
    • Her husband died when she was 59 years old and became the wealthiest African American at the time. She was a philanthropist, supporting various charities.
    • She was a close friend of Ida B. Wells and Susan B. Anthony.
    • The Mary Richardson Jones Park in Chicago is named in her honor.


    Read about more inspiring African-American women:

  • One of Her Landmarks

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  • Photo credit - National Park Service

  • Citations and Additional References:
    Chicago History website.
    The Civil War in Art website.