NASW Foundation National Programs
NASW Social Work Pioneers®
Ida B. Wells
Pioneering Contributions: Ida B. Wells was an integral part of the progressive movement, using her passion about social justice and her skills as a journalist to fight for racial and gender equality. She was the first person to document the lynching of African Americans, and lead many anti-lynching campaigns. Wells worked with other organizers of her time to create the foundation for modern social work. Wells used writing to fight the injustices of her time. Wells helped found the Alpha Suffrage League, a group for African-American women who supported suffrage, and challenged the National American Woman Suffrage Association because of their exclusion of African American women in their movement. Wells was involved in the founding of the NAACP and The Negro Fellowship League, as well as many other organizations that fought for equality for all Americans.
Career Highlights: Wells’s pamphlets “Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases” and “The Red Record: Tabulated Statistics and Alleged Causes of Lynching in the United States” were the first to present the fact that the lynching of African Americans in the US were not happening as a result of fair trials or as a punishment for a crimes committed, but were a retaliation for blacks trying to gain economic, social, or political empowerment. Wells was the frequent target of threats or violence from whites trying to maintain the status quo. She wrote for the Negro Press and had articles on racism and activism that were printed in black newspapers across the country. In addition to founding the Negro Fellowship League, Wells served as its President and helped to open settlement houses that helped African Americans who were migrating to the North from the South. She was involved in expanding school access for black children, and worked with Jane Addams to oppose the establishment of segregated schools in Chicago. Her work on suffrage and women’s rights led to the establishment of the Alpha Suffrage League. Towards the end of her life, Wells’s activism focused on urban reform in Chicago.
Biographic Data: Wells was born into slavery on July 16th, 1862 in Holly Springs, Mississippi to political activist parents. She attended college but never graduated after being expelled from disagreeing with and confronting the college’s president. The oldest of 5 kids, Wells became a teacher to support her siblings after her parents passed away from yellow fever in the 1878 epidemic. Wells moved with three of her younger siblings to Memphis, Tennessee to attend Fisk University. She worked with reformers and activists such as W.E.B. DuBois, Frederick Douglass, and Mary Church Terrell. She married attorney and newspaper editor Ferdinand Barnett in 1895, and had 4 children. She passed away from kidney disease in 1931.
Significant Achievements & Awards Received: The Ida B. Wells Homes - A Chicago Housing project (in the Bronzeville area)
United States Postal Stamp – 1990 by the United States Postal Service to honor Ida B. Wells
100 Greatest African Americans – 2002
The Ida B. Wells-Barnett Museum is in Holly Springs, Mississippi.
The Ida B. Wells Distinguished Lecture and Performance Series is at Spellman College
Significant Publications: Wells, Ida B. (1895) The Red Record: Tabulated Statistics and Alleged Caused of Lynching in the United States.
Wells, Ida B. (1892). Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases.
Wells, Ida B. (1970). Crusader for Justice: The Autobiography of Ida B. Wells. University of Chicago Press.