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Mamie Dillard

School teacher.

Born: Lawrence, Kansas, September 10, 1874. Died: Lawrence, Kansas, November 24, 1954.

Throughout her career Mary J. “Mamie” Dillard was a teacher who was also involved in promoting rights and votes for women and civil rights and leadership for African Americans. She taught and encouraged a young Langston Hughes and continued to support him in his career. She remained active in numerous women’s organizations that focused on leadership, suffrage, and literature.

Mary J. Dillard, born in Lawrence, Kansas, on September 10, 1874, was the daughter of Jesse and Fannie (Johnson) Dillard. Her father worked as a messenger for the Lawrence, Leavenworth and Galveston Railroad Company, and as a janitor at the Lawrence National Bank Building. At the time of Mary’s birth the family lived at 205 Indiana Street. They moved to a new two-and-a-half story house at 520 Louisiana around 1890.

Dillard attended the segregated Pinckney School, at 801 West Sixth Street, for African American children. While in high school she was involved with the Harmonics Club and played the piano for meetings and literary gatherings. She was the only African American student in her graduating class at Lawrence High School in 1892. As part of her graduation program she delivered a speech in favor of the American Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). She joined the segregated African American WCTU in Lawrence that year at the age of 18. She believed in the organization’s efforts to promote woman’s suffrage and leadership opportunities and advocated for other young women to join the movement. Dillard went on to receive a bachelor’s degree from the University of Kansas in 1896.

After graduation she began her teaching career at Pinckney School where instruction was provided for first to third grades. Writer Langston Hughes’ mother moved him from Topeka to live with his grandmother in Lawrence in 1909. There he attended Pinckney School with Dillard as his third grade teacher. She saw Hughes’ talents and encouraged his writing. After Hughes left Kansas Dillard continued to maintain a close relationship with her former student.

In pursuit of a graduate degree, Dillard took courses in English and special education at the University of Kansas between 1909 and 1913. After her course work was completed, she became principal of Lincoln School, an African American grade school in Lawrence. Governor Arthur Capper appointed her as one of four delegates to the convention of the Negro National Educational Congress in 1916.

Dillard was active with numerous literary and cultural clubs. She was patroness of the University of Kansas’ Delta Sigma Theta sorority chapter, a Greek organization dedicated to public service with an emphasis on programs for African Americans. Her home served briefly as the chapter sorority headquarters in the 1920s. She was a member of the Home and Garden Club and the Sierra Leone Club. She served as president of the Double Six Club and as president of the Self Culture Club in 1933, an organization that promoted education and community building for African American working mothers.

Mary J. Dillard died November 24, 1954, and is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery, Lawrence, Kansas.

Entry: Dillard, Mamie

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: May 2019

Date Modified: May 2019

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.