Sue M. Wilson Brown was born on September 8, 1877 in Staunton, Virginia. Her parents were Jacob and Maria (Harris) Wilson, who came to Iowa, like many others, to mine coal. Sue attended and graduated from Oskaloosa High School where she met her husband, attorney Samuel Joe Brown, a native of Iowa. They were married on December 31, 1902. The pair eventually settled in Des Moines together.
Though she ultimately settled in Des Moines, she worked at the local, state, and national levels to advocate for African-American women. Some of the clubs she helped establish were the Intellectual Improvement Club in 1906, Mary B. Talbert Club in Iowa City in 1914, and the Des Moines League of Colored Women Voters. She also worked as the editor of the journal of the Iowa Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs (IFCWC), the Iowa Colored Women. The IFCWC oversaw and assisted many African-American women’s clubs in Iowa. She would later preside over the IFCWC from 1915 to 1917.
While serving as president, Ms. Wilson Brown would lead efforts to provide African-American women students housing while at the University of Iowa, then known as State University of Iowa. She helped a great number of women safely access higher education.
In addition to these clubs and organizations, Ms. Wilson Brown and her husband also worked to establish a Des Moines chapter of the NAACP, of which they would become members. She would eventually become the first female president of the Des Moines chapter of the NAACP in 1925.
Ms. Wilson Brown was also an author. She wrote The History of the Order of the Eastern Star Among Colored People and The History of Central Association of Colored Women.
Sue M. Wilson Brown was an accomplished political activist, writer, suffragist, and editor. She dedicated her time to many causes that included (but were not limited to) providing housing for female African-American students, leading African-American women’s clubs, civil rights, equity, and women’s suffrage.
Written by Allyn Benkowich and Kristen Corey, Office on the Status of Women