Crystal Bird Fauset (1893-1965)

Politician Crystal Dreda Bird Fauset of Princess Anne, Maryland, was the first African American female elected to a state legislature. The daughter of educators, she was orphaned in girlhood and was cared for by an aunt in Boston. With a degree from Boston Normal School, she taught in public classrooms for three years. In 1918 she took a supervisory post with the Young Women's Christian Association and traveled the country, Cuba, and Mexico as the organization’s representative on services for blacks.


In 1927 she became a roving speaker for the American Friends Service Committee. She received a bachelor's degree from Columbia University Teachers College in 1931, and two years later she helped found the Institute for Race Relations at Swarthmore. After marriage changed her name to Fauset, she joined the staff of the Works Progress Administration (WPA). With help from her friends, Fauset won a close 1938 Democratic primary over several men for a state House seat in a Philadelphia district and went on to win the general election. The very next year, however, Fauset disappointed her supporters by resigning from the legislature to direct a state branch of the Works Progress Administration. Two years later she accepted an appointment from Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt as a consultant to the Office of Civilian Defense, and in January 1944 she joined the national staff of the Democratic party. Shortly before that fall's election, however, she endorsed Roosevelt's Republican opponent, Thomas Dewey. Following her switch in parties, she could not secure any other political appointments and spent her remaining years on the international lecture circuit.

Image credit: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Collection, LC-USE6-D-001485.