Author: Peggy Brooks-Bertram, Dr.P.H., Ph.D. – Co-Founder, Uncrowned Queens Institute for Research and Education on Women, Inc.
Hester C. Jeffrey was born circa 1842 in Norfolk, Virginia. Her parents Robert and Martha Whitehurst were free. In 1860 Hester moved to Boston, Massachusetts with her brother and sister to the home of an uncle, Coffin Pitts.
She later settled in Rochester, New York in 1891. She was married to R. Jerome Jeffrey in 1865. Her father-in-law, Reverend Rosewell Jeffrey was an affluent and prominent political activist.
Jeffrey was an untiring organizer and activist who became involved in many of Rochester’s associations. She was a member of the Political Equality club and the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WTCU). She held the positions of county Superintendent as well as secretary of the Third Ward in the WTCU. She was also section president of the Needlework Guild of America. In 1897, she was appointed to serve on the Frederick Douglass Monument Committee.
Jeffrey founded or helped to organize a number of local African American women’s clubs in Rochester’s growing black community. In 1902, she organized the Susan B. Anthony Club for African American women. She also served as its president. While the club’s goals were, in part philanthropic, its Mothers’ Council was created to help mothers with small children. It also advocated for suffrage.
Jeffrey was also instrumental in founding the Climbers and the Hester C. Jeffrey Club, organizations for young African American women. One of the purposes of the Hester C. Jeffrey club was to raise funds for young black women to take courses at the Mechanics’ Institute, which later became the Rochester Institute of technology.
As the above affiliations demonstrate, Jeffrey built and maintained ties across racial communities in Rochester. Her affiliations with both communities are reflected in the religious sphere as well as in civic and philanthropic organizations. While she often attended the First Unitarian Church and had close ties with Mary Gannett, wife of its prominent minister, she maintained an active membership in the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Zion church and served on various committees there.
Jeffrey’s activities as a clubwoman assured her a state and national as well as a local presence. In 1902, she spoke at a Buffalo, New York convention of the National Association of Colored women (NACW), a group founded in 1896 by such prominent African American leaders as Harriet Tubman, Rosetta Douglass Sprague (daughter of Frederick Douglass), Frances Harper, Mary Church Terrell and Ida Wells Barnett.
In 1905, Jeffrey represented the New York Federation of Colored women as a New York State Woman Suffrage Association convention. The same year, as president of the NYFCW, she presented its annual report when the group met in Rochester. Jeffrey was also a friend and associate of Susan B. Anthony and was chosen to speak at Anthony’s funeral in 1906. In her eulogy, Jeffrey expressed her admiration and friendship for Anthony. She also expressed her support and advocacy for suffrage. She stated that the “members of the Susan B. Anthony Club” were filled with sorrow for the loss of “their great leader”. She proclaimed Anthony to be a “friend for many years – our champion.” And she pledged that the members of the club would devote their time and energies to continuing Anthony’s work.
Hester Jeffrey organized and led associations that improved the lives of African American women in Rochester, the state of New York and throughout the country. She died circa 1931.
The Friends of the Buffalo Story is involved in a yearlong project whose mission is to uncover and reveal the heritage-based stories of people who live along the Ferry Street Corridor. As part of this effort “The Friends” is working very closely with community-groups, who have been doing this work for many years. None has done this more effectively and diligently than the uncrowned queens institute for research & education on women, inc.
We are proud to be collaborating with them to bring you this ongoing feature during the month of February, which focuses on some of the “uncrowned community builders” who have done so much to strengthen the African-American community of Buffalo’s East Side as well as the region.
Additional “uncrowned community builders” are as follows: