History was made 80 years ago today when Crystal Bird Fauset became the first African-American woman elected to state legislature in America. As a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, Fauset, a Boston native, spent much of her political and adult life in Philadelphia.
Crystal Bird was born June 27, 1944 in Princess Anne, Md., and raised in Boston, Mass. She graduated from Teachers College, Columbia University in 1931, this after serving for a handful of years as a public schoolteacher in New York. The same year she left Columbia, Bird married educator Arthur Fauset.
As a staff member of the American Friends Service Committee, Fauset worked to bridge gaps between Black and White communities nationwide. The position raised her profile as a public speaker and in 1933, she was named the executive secretary of the Institute of Race Relations at Swarthmore College.
The Philadelphia Democratic Party asked Fauset to run for state office in a district that was, at the time, two-thirds White. She won the election on November 8, 1938, serving just one year. But while there, she was able to introduce nine bills and was a champion for women’s rights, public health, and combating poverty.
Fauset went on to join President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Black Cabinet” and became friends with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. She helped Fauset get the position of assistant director and race relations director of the Office of Civil Defense. Despite her Democratic Party ties, Fauset joined the Republican National Committee’s division on Negro Affairs in 1944.
She went on to help found the United Nations Council of Philadelphia, and turned her energy to global development including in the nations of Africa, India, and beyond.
Crystal Bird Fauset passed in 1965 at the age of 71.
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