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  • Kimberley Guillemet

World Changer of the Month — January 2023: Elizabeth “Lizzie” Austin Taylor

Elizabeth Austin Taylor was born in Kansas in 1874 to William Austin and Ellen Frye Washington, both recently freed from slavery. By 1891, she had moved to the Utah Territory, and married William Wesley Taylor. The couple began a family and by 1895 also began a newspaper, the Utah Plain Dealer. This weekly newspaper existed to serve and inform the small Black community of the territory. From the outset, Ms. Taylor worked as compositor, setting type for the newspaper, and her husband served as the editor.

Mrs. Taylor established the Western Federation of Colored Women, an organization she developed to address the economic, social, and family concerns plaguing Black women in America. Its membership drew from women across 13 states. Mrs. Taylor said that the goal of the Federation was to “bring and bind our women together in a helpful way.” As its president, she led the Federation in supporting Black women and their families through social opportunities, charitable work, and The Western Women’s Advocate newspaper.

In July 1904, Mrs. Taylor organized a conference at the Salt Lake City Council Chamber for the Federation's members that drew Black women together from throughout Utah and the American West. The Federation received acclaim from the Utah governor Heber M. Wells and Salt Lake City mayor Richard P. Morris. In response, Mrs. Taylor said: “I am truly proud of this movement; being a race woman I have looked with sorrow upon the condition of our women for many years and I believe that the colored women should stand together more than any other class of civilized women in the world..”

Mrs. Taylor and her husband were early members of the mainstream Utah Press Association (UPA) and the Western Negro Press Association (WNPA). The couple traveled widely throughout the western United States in an effort to gain social and political equality in Utah for African-Americans.

When her husband became ill and died in 1907, Mrs. Taylor shouldered his duties as editor and publisher of the Plain Dealer. She continued to put the paper out through 1909 or 1910, while caring for her household and children William, Myrtle, Leonard, Thelma, and Booker T. During that time frame, she also cared for her mother and sister-in-law during their final illnesses, and her infant child, Leonard, who died as an infant.

Mrs. Taylor continued with her activism after her husband’s death, traveling to annual conferences and speaking regularly. In 1909, she delivered a speech at the WNPA conference titled, “Is There a Future in Journalism for Negro Women?”

Mrs. Taylor and her family also helped establish the two major Black churches in Salt Lake City in the 1890s: Trinity African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church and Calvary Baptist Church. Both are still in existence. Mrs. Taylor led children’s groups, participated in the literary society, and was a member of the Queen Esther Chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star.

Mrs. Taylor’s energy and charisma brought, bound together and elevated Black women in the Western part of the United States during a time when they were plagued with state-sanctioned discrimination.

One of her greatest triumphs was seeing her daughters graduate from college and work as teachers. Mrs. Taylor died at her daughter’s home in Owensboro, Kentucky, on March 22, 1932.

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