by Sherri Goudy
Portions of this biography are to be included in the Online Biographical Dictionary of the Woman Suffrage Movement in the United States. Once published, it can be accessed here.
Jewelia Ann Galloway Higgins was born December 29, 1873 to Mary Louisa Chittendon and William Galloway in Dayton, Ohio. Her grandfather, James Chittendon was a Civil War veteran. She was born into a family that represents generations of community activists and leaders, freedom fighters, and empowered women.
Her great-grandmother was Charity Broady, born in Louisville, Kentucky in 1802, the daughter of a freed slave and a Cherokee woman. As an infant, she was brought to Dayton, Ohio by her father, among the first black settlers there. Her mother died of smallpox prior to the trip. Charity later married John Broady and together they became conductors on the Underground Railroad. Fugitive slaves would hide in the Broady home then slip into First Wesleyan Methodist Church which was next door, were given clothes provided by church members, and continued on their journey to freedom.
Jewelia lived with Charity growing up. She knew that Charity had been an attendee at the Woman Suffrage Convention in Akron, Ohio, where Sojourner Truth gave her famous “Ain’t I a Woman” speech. Perhaps this was one of the driving factors in Jewelia’s conviction to work with the Dayton Woman Suffrage Association (DWSA), a white woman’s suffrage organization.
The DWSA was unique in that they appear to have actively sought the cooperation of working alongside Black women, as well as immigrants and working-class women. Jewelia served as a member of the DWSA beginning in 1912. The organization’s records indicate Jewelia and other African American women worked the suffrage booth on Mondays during the Ohio push for suffrage in 1912. Under Jewelia’s leadership, the women also gave speeches and organized gatherings in the community.
Among Jewelia’s other leadership in the community, she was an advocate and fierce leading voice promoting Black educators and education as well as community service. She was a founding member of the Unique Study Club in 1900. After WWI, the club formed a black chapter of the American Red Cross. Jewelia became one of the first, if not the first, Black Red Cross nurse in the Dayton area. She also served as matron of the Holloway Colored Orphans’ Home after the founder, Julia Holloway retired.
Her husband, Rev. Charles Higgins, served during WWI as secretary under the War Work Council of the YMCA. Jewelia served for many years alongside her husband with the YMCA. In 1951, she was honored by the YMCA as one of the 15 Pioneer Mothers. She was also a founding member of the Black YWCA in Dayton, otherwise called the WCA no. 2.
Jewelia was an elected officer of the Colored Citizens Protective League (CCPL) which formed in 1914 and was later called the Colored Citizens Protective Association (CCPA). This organization’s work mirrored that which the NAACP did, and when the Dayton Chapter of that organization formed in 1915, the CCPA appears to have dissolved, perhaps merging with the NAACP.
Jewelia and Charles raised their children, instilling the same community leadership and female empowerment that had been passed down since John Davis brought baby Charity to Dayton in 1802. Their daughter Rita became a leader within the First Wesleyan Methodist church and the community. Their daughter Charlest wrote the history of the first 100 years of the First Wesleyan church and she alongside her husband, Ernest Johnson, Dayton’s first Black master plumber, continued the legacy of success for their family.
Jewelia died December 14, 1955 and her funeral was held at Sacred Heart Catholic Church. Her service was the first for an African American person in that church. Like most of her family, she is buried in Woodland Cemetery in Dayton, Ohio
Austin, Charles M., Collection, Special Collections and Archives, Wright State University, Dayton, OH.
“Dayton Club to Observe 95th Year,” Dayton Daily News, November 15, 1995.
“Forgotten Stories – Milestones in the History of Women,” Dayton Daily News, March 22, 1994.
“Funds Lacking to Assist Negro Home,” Dayton Daily News, November 28, 1912.
History Drives Family Forward,” Dayton Daily News, October 31, 1990.
Interviews with Patricia Smith Griffin, great-granddaughter of Jewelia Higgins and family historian, June 4, 2019 and August 28, 2019
Interview with Andrea Walker-Cummings, Dayton historian, June 18, 2019
Minutes, July 22, 1912. Dayton Woman Suffrage Association. Records. Dayton Metro Library, Dayton, OH.
“Negro Citizens Hold a Suffrage Meeting,” Dayton Daily News, August 17, 1912.
Peters, Margaret E. Dayton’s African American Heritage. National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center, Wilberforce. 1995, 2005
“What the Past Year Brought to Dayton,” Dayton Daily News, January 1, 1915.