Last updated: January 16, 2023
Working for African Americans' civil and political rights, Arianna C. Sparrow joined Black women’s organizations to protest racial discrimination and support women's suffrage.
Beyond census records documenting her birth in Virginia, little is known about Arianna C. Sparrow’s early life.1 According to John Daniels' 1914 In Freedom's Birthplace: A Study of the Boston Negroes, Arianna traveled with her mother to Boston in 1852. Daniels, as well as later newspapers, noted that Harriet Beecher Stowe modeled her character Eliza in Uncle Tom's Cabin after Sparrow's mother.2 Articles document Arianna Sparrow's talent as a soprano singer, and she often sung at various public events throughout her life in Boston.
Arianna Sparrow's earliest known public activities centered on the issue of women’s suffrage. In 1885, she participated in Ward 9 suffrage meetings held in the Beacon Hill/West End neighborhoods. Hosted by the Massachusetts Woman’s Suffrage Association (MWSA), these meetings featured local leaders Lewis Hayden, Lucy Stone, Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin, and others. In speeches, this group encouraged Black women to register to vote in school committee elections and Black men to vote for local politicians who supported women’s suffrage. During one of these meetings, held at Twelfth Baptist Church, Arianna Sparrow "led the audience in the woman suffrage songs."3 Two years later, Sparrow helped organize the West End Woman's Suffrage League, a chapter of the MWSA composed of mostly leaders in the Black community. She became elected as a member of the Executive Committee of the League, and she offered to hold a subscription of the suffrage paper The Woman's Journal at her home at 62 Phillips Street, in the heart of the Black community on Beacon Hill.4
In 1893, Arianna Sparrow joined the Woman's Era Club as a founding member. She served as a leading member of the Club, partaking in many meetings and affiliated events. Through the Club, Sparrow became more involved in local activism and issues that affected African Americans. She joined Eliza Gardner, Josephine Ruffin, Florida Ridley, and Agnes Adams in a series of 1894 meetings with local Black leaders, including Emory Morris, Butler Wilson, and Clement Morgan, to discuss the anti-lynching crisis. At the end of these gatherings, they established several committees to bring attention to the lynching crisis and to take further action. Sparrow served on the Committee on Petition, the Press Committee, and the Committee on Newspaper Comments and Accounts and on Statistics.5
Through her work with the Woman's Era Club, Arianna Sparrow helped organize the 1895 First National Conference of Colored Women of America in Boston, serving on the Committee of Arrangements.6 During the convention, Sparrow gave a solo performance and helped Florida Ridley as assistant corresponding secretary.7 This convention created the framework for the National Association of Colored Women, later the National Association of Colored Women's Clubs, which Sparrow also joined.
Arianna Sparrow expanded her dedication to social justice beyond the Woman's Era Club. She continued her involvement in the anti-lynching movement by attending speeches and events throughout Boston, including a mass meeting of women in May 1899 "to Protest Against Lynching of Negroes who Outrage Southern Women."8 As someone who remembered the anti-slavery movement, Sparrow attended, and often sang during, many commemorative events in the 1890s and early 1900s. These events recognized the contributions of Harriet Beecher Stowe, Frederick Douglass, and other abolitionists.9 Organizers of these events often linked the battle for freedom during abolition to the ongoing struggle for civil rights for African Americans. For Arianna Sparrow, as well as many other Black activists, this connection between the past and present drove her work for full equality.
After decades of service to the issues of women's rights and civil rights, Arianna Sparrow died in Boston in 1927.
- The 1900 Boston Census states her birth year as 1855, while the 1920 Boston Census gives 1842. Since Daniels provides an anecdote of Sparrow for 1852, we have given more weight to the year provided in the 1920 Census. See 1900 U.S. Census, Suffolk County, Massachusetts, Boston City Ward 12, Precinct 5, Enumeration District Number 1331; 1920 U.S. Census, Suffolk County, Massachusetts, Boston City Ward 13, Enumeration District Number 336.
- John Daniels, In Freedom’s Birthplace: A Study of the Boston Negros (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1914), 454; “Declare North is Backsliding,” Boston Globe, June 15, 1911.
- “Massachusetts Field Notes,” Woman’s Journal 16, no. 44 (October 31, 1885), Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University, accessed January 10, 2020, https://iiif.lib.harvard.edu/manifests/view/drs:49020442$354i. “School Suffrage in Boston,” Woman’s Journal 16, no. 39 (September 26, 1885), Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University, accessed January 10, 2020, https://iiif.lib.harvard.edu/manifests/view/drs:49020442$314i; “Suffrage Meeting in Ward Nine,” Woman’s Journal 16, no. 40 (October 3, 1885), Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University, accessed January 10, 2020, https://iiif.lib.harvard.edu/manifests/view/drs:49020442$322i.
- “West End Woman Suffrage League,” The Woman’s Journal 18, no. 34 (August 20, 1887), Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University, accessed January, 2020, https://iiif.lib.harvard.edu/manifests/view/drs:49687853$274i.
- The results and actions taken by these committees are unclear. For more information, see The Woman's Era Volume 1, no. 4 (July 1894).
- “Best City in the World,” Boston Globe, July 09, 1895.
- "Historical Records of Conventions of 1895-96 of the Colored Women of America," (1902), Ida B. Wells Papers, University of Chicago Library, https://www.lib.uchicago.edu/ead/pdf/ibwells-0009-006.pdf; The History of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs, Inc: A Legacy of Service, ed. LaVonne Leslie (Xlibris Corporation, 2012).
- "Mass Meeting of Women,” Boston Globe, May 17, 1899.
- “Abolition Reunion,” Boston Globe, September 14, 1890; “Declare North is Backsliding” Boston Globe, June 15, 1911; “They Loved Him,” Boston Globe, December 21, 1895; “Reunion of Abolitionists,” Boston Globe, April 04, 1897; “For Stowe Centenary,” Boston Herald, June 13, 1911; “To Honor Noted Author,” Boston Globe, June 13, 1911.