Ella Russell Robinson (1881-1963), social worker and club leader

KyWoman Suffrage Discussion

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.

Ella Russell was born 16 November 1881 to Hattie and George Russell. In 1900, both Ella and her mother Hattie, by then a widow, were domestic servants and boarders. A few years later, Hattie Russell married Felix Rush, and on 29 June 1904, Ella married George Francis Robinson (1879 - 1965). By 1910, George was a mail carrier, a job he held for more than thirty years. By 1920, Ella, who had been a domestic, had acquired two years college education and was teaching in the Louisville schools. By 1930, she was employed as a social worker, a position she would have been uniquely qualified for, as she had lived as a boarder while supporting herself as a domestic. After her husband’s death, Hattie Robinson returned to living with her daughter, Ella; George’s mother, Delphia, also lived with the family.

Ella Robinson was prominent in church and civic organizations, and active in women’s groups, serving as President and Recording Secretary for the Kentucky Association of Colored Women. She was one of five women who compiled the Kentucky Federation’s history for Elisabeth Lindsay Davis’s Lifting as They Climb, the 1933 history of the National Association of Colored Women (NACW). Robinson often gave addresses at NACW meetings. In 1934, Robinson led the discussion concerning social and community problems at the Central Association of Colored Women, the regional organization to which the Kentucky Association of Colored Women belonged. She was a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority.

In September 1918 George Robinson signed up to serve in World War I, and he was honored by President Woodrow Wilson as one of the seven Four-Minute Men in Louisville. During the war, Ella Robinson led young girls at the Wheatley Y. W. C. A. in the Patriotic League to grow food and sew comforts for soldiers. She later entered social work, becoming a member of the Louisville Family Service Organization and senior social worker at Louisville and Jefferson County Children’s Home. In that role, she attended the 1931 White House Conference on Housing and Home Ownership and the Oscar DePriest Conference. DePriest, a U. S. Congressman and civil rights activist, had initiated the conference; in 1913 his symposium had been “Votes for Women” and gathered eminent national figures to talk in support of woman suffrage. In 1939, Robinson was appointed senior social worker to supervise the “relocation of tenants in the West End slum clearance project for negroes.” In the photograph below she was commemorated in the National Association of Colored Women’s Club anniversary publication in 1962 for serving as the Kentucky president for the Frederick Douglass Home Memorial and Historical Association.


Robinson gained an education, becoming a teacher and marrying a letter carrier, assuring two stable family incomes, thus enabling the couple to provide positive educational resources for their children. They had three sons, all of whom became successful professionals. Son Carl was the first African American Eagle Scout in the United States - his father had started the first Scouts program for blacks in Louisville. He studied at Indiana University and Juilliard School of Music, becoming a concert pianist and touring such major cities as New York, Paris, and London. He also taught at Howard University. Adam Mayfield Robinson (1910-1969) served in World War II and became a Louisville physician. Son George Francis, Jr., who often accompanied his brother Carl on the violin at regional concerts, had taught at several institutions of higher learning, including Louisville Municipal College, and was studying law at the University of Chicago when he died. Sadly, both Carl and George Francis Jr. died in 1946, preceding their parents in death.

Ella Robinson died at the Red Cross Hospital in Louisville on 12 December 1963; she and her husband are buried in the Louisville Cemetery.


  • Davis, Elizabeth Lindsay. Lifting as They Climb.1933. Reprint: New York: G. K. Hall & Co., 1996.
  • Indianapolis Ledger: 13 April 1918.
  • (Louisville) Courier-Journal: 18 July 1934; 14 January 1939; 31 March 1955; 13 December 1963; 14 June 1965.
  • Louisville Leader: 15 September 1923; 20 September 1924; 15 June 1929; 7 December 1929; 14 June 1930; 3 August 1935; 22 November 1941; 21 December 1946; 25 January 1947.
  • U. S. Census: 1900-1940.
  • Williams, Lillian Serece, ed. Records of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs, 1895-1992. Bethesda, MD. University Publications of America, 1995. Part 2, Reel 8, frame 749.