Essie Dortch Mack (1883-1940), educator and political activist
This biosketch was written by Dr. Carol Mattingly, Professor Emerita of English at the University of Louisville. For her full project on “African American Women and Suffrage in Louisville,” visit https://arcg.is/1O8muW.
Essie Dortch was born to John and Emma Talbert Dortch in Louisville. According to the 1900 census, Emma could read and write, but John could not. John Dortch had moved to Louisville from Tennessee, one of the first African Americans employed by the railroads. Essie Dortch graduated from Central High School in 1902 and attended Louisville Municipal College. On June 28, 1909, she married Oliver P. Mack, a porter; by 1920, Oliver Mack had become a letter carrier, possibly reflecting the family’s rising status, as these government positions offered rare stable and good-paying jobs for African Americans and were usually politically connected. Being married to a letter carrier gained a middle-class status that supported political influence. Oliver Mack eventually became a supervisor and agent for a local insurance company. The couple had no children.
Most African Americans associated education with moral, economic, and social uplift, and Essie Mack devoted much of her life to promoting education for African Americans. She helped to establish the Phillis Wheatley Kindergarten, Louisville’s kindergarten for African American children; she belonged to many state and national organizations that focused on education for African American children: the Congress of Kindergarten Mothers, the National Congress of Colored PTAs, the Kentucky Colored Mothers PTA, and the Kentucky Negro Education Association (KNEA), all of which she served as president. An effective speaker, Mack travelled the state delivering speeches in her role as president of the KNEA and spoke often at important community events, such as receptions for new ministers. She often took charge of bereavement services for members of the African American Community and held formal teas and receptions at her home for other important community guests and events. Like many Black suffragists, Essie Mack became an outspoken member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which became the leading national organization for civil rights. Founded in 1909, the Louisville chapter’s membership increased greatly in 1913 when the Board of Aldermen proposed and later passed a housing segregation law. The NAACP successfully challenged the ordinance, reversing the law in 1917, one its earliest major victories. In 1925, after an earlier bond to fund the University of Louisville that was defeated by African Americans, leaders proposed a new bond that added funding for African American higher education. They enlisted Essie Mack, along with fellow suffragists Fannie Givens, Patsie Sloan and Mary Parrish, to encourage African Americans to vote in favor of the bond; in this capacity, Mack was chair of poll workers for the Colored Parent Teachers Associations. Similarly, in 1927, Essie Mack, with fellow suffragist Fannie Givens, chaired a committee for the Parks Improvement Bond and the Ohio River Bridge project. All the bond issues these women supported passed.
Like many other African American suffragists, Mack became business savvy in her work on committees and as an officer of many organizations. In August 1924, she joined fellow suffragists Fannie Givens, Lavinia Sneed, and others to buy property and build a Women’s Business, Civic, and Political Club to offer support to other African American women.
Essie Dortch Mack died August 2, 1940. She is buried with her husband in Louisville Cemetery.
- [Louisville] Courier Journal: 3 November 1925; 20 October 1927; 30 April 1931; 20 July 1934.
- Louisville Leader: 12 February 1921; 7 January 1922; 24 January 1922; 4 November, 1922; 29 August, 1925; 28 May, 1927; 29 October, 1927; 8 December 1928; 2 March, 1929; 19 January 1930; 25 January 1930; 29 November 1930; 14 February 1931; 28 February 1931; 20 June 1931; 8 August 1931; 10 October 1931; 6 May 1933; 16 September 1933; 18 November 1933; 10 August 1935; 31 August 1935.
- Smith, Gerald L, Karen Cotton McDaniel, and John A. Hardin, eds. The Kentucky African American Encyclopedia. Lexington, University Press of Kentucky, 2015. p.343.
- Washington Bee: 7 February 1914; 28 August 1915.
- Williams, Lillian Serece, ed. Records of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs, 1895-1992. Bethesda, MD. University Publications of America, 1995. Reel 8, frame 749.
- U. S. Census: 1910-1940
- Essie Dortch Mack
- Louisville KY
- Jefferson County KY
- Phillis Wheatley
- Congress of Kindergarten Mothers
- National Congress of Colored PTAs
- Kentucky Colored Mothers PTA
- Kentucky Negro Education Association
- National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
- University of Louisville
- Urban parks
- Louisville Cemetery
- black clubwomen
- Black Women's history