Dr. Mary Fitzbutler Waring (1869-1958), physician, educator and civil rights activist

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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.


Mary Fitzbutler was born in Ontario, Canada, probably around 1871, the daughter of Henry and Sarah Helen McCurdy Fitzbutler. The Fitzbutlers had five surviving children, and Mary R. was the middle child. Her father, Dr Henry Fitzbutler, graduated with a medical degree from the University of Michigan, the first African American to do so. In 1872, after his graduation, the family moved to Louisville, where the Fitzbutlers became prominent citizens. Dr. Henry Fitzbutler, along with three other physicians, founded the Louisville National Medical School, which became affiliated with State University. They also began a small hospital, Citizens Auxiliary Hospital, in the United Brothers of Friendship Hall, to serve the sick and to allow African American medical and nursing students access to patients, as African American health professionals were not allowed to practice in Louisville’s hospitals. Dr. Fitzbutler published The Ohio Falls Express, an early Louisville African American newspaper, from 1878-1900. He belonged to many organizations and boards and was chosen to introduce Frederick Douglass when Douglass was in Louisville for the National Convention of Freemen.

The Fitzbutler children attended public schools and graduated from Central High School. Mary was active in sports and drama and traveled to complete studies in art. Dr. Sarah Fitzbutler and at least three of the Fitzbutler children, graduated from Louisville National Medical School. Sarah Helen Fitzbutler, Kentucky’s first African American woman physician, graduated in the class of 1892; she became the primary nursing instructor, a director of the school, and took charge of the school upon the death of her husband. Mary graduated in the class of 1898, Prima in the class of 1901. Dr. Prima Fitzbutler became an instructor of pediatrics at Louisville National Medical School and a member of the Board of Managers. Their younger brother James also graduated from the school. Another Louisville activist, Artishia Gilbert, graduated in the class of 1893.

Both Prima and Mary taught in the Louisville Public Schools. Mary taught at Eastern Colored School, where A. E. Meyzeek was principal. Prima taught at Samuel Taylor Coleridge School. According to her obituary, Prima never practiced medicine but taught in the Louisville schools for 56 years. She married J. L. V. Washington, a leading Louisville businessman, whom the Leader called “a pioneer in the business life of Negroes in Louisville.” He served continuously on the Board of Directors of Mammoth Life from its earliest years. The couple were active in the Knights of Pytheon.

Mary married a Chicagoan, Frank Waring, in 1899, in Louisville, and moved to Chicago. Her sister Myra was already a teacher in Chicago. Mary became prominent in Chicago social circles and was very active in reform and charitable causes. According to the Chicago Spokesman, in 1933, Dr. Mary Waring had taught for 25 years in the Chicago public schools in addition to remaining a practicing physician and surgeon. She had given 27 years of service to the National Association of Colored Women (NACW). Waring represented the NACW at the International Congress of Women in Norway, a group founded to unite women’s groups across the world, and at the International Council of Women in Scotland. She was active in the National Council of Women. She was examining physician for the Liberty Life Insurance Co., the Odd Fellows, and Elks. She was appointed by the Illinois governor to act as Commissioner of the 1915 Lincoln Jubilee. A National Organizer of War Camp Community Service, Waring organized the St. Louis Community Service and inaugurated training for Red Cross nurses under the National Nurse Training Service.

Sarah, Prima, and Mary all seem to have been involved in the National Association of Colored Women, but Mary was most active, becoming visible in the organization as early as 1906. She is profiled in Elizabeth Lindsay Davis’s 1933 history of the NACW ("Lifting as They Climb") and is referenced repeatedly throughout the NACW’s publication, National Notes. She took charge of the Department of Health and Hygiene, writing a regular column for National Notes and eventually became national vice-president and president of the organization. Her portrait below was published in The History of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs, Inc.: A Legacy of Service (Washington D.C., 1984).

Dr. Mary Waring was a major fundraiser. She helped to raise money for numerous causes, such as the Chicago Young Woman’s Christian Association, which she helped to found, and other local charities. She was chief fundraiser for the NACW National Headquarters in Washington D. C. and for the Frederick Douglass Home, handing over the ceremonial match to light the Douglass Home mortgage, which she had helped to retire. During the war, she raised money in support of the troops.

Dr. Mary Waring seems to have been somewhat like her father. Dr. Henry Fitzbutler spoke openly and vociferously for civil rights for African Americans. He ran for several elective offices in the 1880s. Perhaps because he so openly challenged the status quo, he became a controversial figure, often at odds with more moderate Black leaders. He was sued for libel by Baptist minister C. C. Bates, husband of Kentucky activist Lizzie Bates, and for defamation of character in another incident. He was charged with felonious murder, apparently for performing an abortion on a young woman who died after the procedure. He often created controversy during Republican Party conventions and was at least once accused of ballot stuffing. Henry, as Chair of Resolutions for the National Colored Press Association, introduced resolutions decrying laws that penalized interracial marriage even as crimes white men committed against Black women went unpunished. He also introduced resolutions that denounced laws that punished with fines and imprisonment the teaching of African American children with white students, and vice versa; he similarly protested lawlessness and mob violence against Blacks.

Mary, too, was an activist and became much more publicly vocal when she had the power and prestige of the presidency of the NACW. Like her father, she edited a magazine, the National Women’s Magazine, which enabled her voice. In 1937, as President of the NACW, she wrote an open letter of protest to the Georgia Warm Springs Foundation for the Treatment of Infantile Paralysis because the Foundation refused to treat children of color. She published a protest in at least one newspaper, the [Kansas City] Plaindealer, arguing against the Jim Crow laws requiring separate railway coaches in the South. She wrote open letters to President Franklin Roosevelt, asking him to support a law outlawing lynching, and to Alabama's U.S. Senator Dixie Bibb Graves, protesting her filibuster against an anti-lynching law. Dr. Mary Waring may have been somewhat less pugnacious than her father, but she was as direct and demanding as he.

Dr. Mary Waring is buried in Chicago’s Lincoln Cemetery. Her parents, Drs. Sarah and Henry Fitzbutler, are buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Louisville. Dr. Prima Fitzbutler Washington is buried in Eastern Cemetery in Louisville.

*** Sources ***

  • Advocate: 15 August 1924.
  • Appeal: 25 December 1920; 1 January 1921; 20 October 1923.
  • The Benevolent Banner: 15 August 1887.
  • Broad Ax: 21 March 1914; 24 October 1914; 26 February 1916; 3 August 1918; 10 August 1918; 24 July 1920; 19 July 1924; 13 March 1926; 20 August 1927.
  • [Topeka, Kansas] Capitol Plaindealer: 31 January 1937; 6 August 1937.
  • Cleveland Gazette: 3 October 1914; 26 March 1921; 26 January 1935.
  • [Louisville, Ky.] Courier Journal: 19 February 1873; 5 May 1876; 7 April 1883; 10 May 1883; 15 June 1883; 14 September 1887; 27 April 1888; 1 May 1888; 30 October 1888; 22 May 1889; 14 December 1895; 22 June 1897; 29 June 1901; 28 August 1902; 20 March 1904; 15 June 1912; 28 February 1937; 1 September 1948; 6 December 1958 (obit), 4 April 1962; 11 August 1985; 18 May 1986.
  • Davis, Elizabeth Lindsay. “Lifting as They Climb.” New York: G. K. Hall & Co., 1996 [1933].
  • 1879-1907 Twenty-eighth Annual Announcement of State University and 1888-1907 Twentieth Announcement of Louisville National Medical College 1907-1908. Louisville Ky. University of Louisville Archives and Special Collections.
  • [Kansas] Emporia Citizen: 1 July 1933.
  • Kansas Whip: 30 July 1937.
  • Los Angeles Tribune: 26 December 1958 (obit).
  • Louisville Leader: 26 May 1923; 1 September 1923; 6 December 1924; 18 April 1931; 21 July 1934; 3 August 1935; 12 June 1943; 22 May 1943; 18 May 1946.
  • [Wichita Kansas] Negro Star: 31 March 1933; 11 August 1933; 15 September 1933; 8 December 1933; 22 February 1935; 22 March 1935; 9 August 1935; 10 January 1936.
  • Notable Kentucky African American Database: Louisville National Medical College, Henry Fitzbutler; Mary R. Fitzbutler Waring; Sarah Helen M. Fitzbutler.
  • Notable Black American Women. Book II.
  • [Kansas] Plaindealer: 27 May 1932; 10 June 1932; 1 March 1935; 18 Aug 1933; 15 September 1933; 29 September 1933; 2 August 1935; 18 December 1936; 25 June 1937; 11 August 1939.2015.
  • Savannah Tribune: 28 June 1919; 19 March 1921.
  • Smith, Gerald L., Karen Cotton McDanial, and John A. Hardin. The Kentucky African American Encyclopedia. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2015. 182, 183, 337,338, 516. 539.
  • [Chicago] Spokesman: 11 March 1933.
  • Washington Bee: 6 January 1912; 23 March 1918; 23 November 1918.
  • Williams, Lillian Serece, ed. Records of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs, 1895-1992. Bethesda, MD. University Publications of America, 1995. Part 1, Reel 1, frame 292; Part 1, Reel 8, frame 749; Part 2. Reel 24, frame 127. 131, 170, 184, 247, 285 (photo), 297 (photo), 358 (photo), 372 (photo), 460.
  • Wright, George C. Life Behind a Veil: Blacks in Louisville, Kentucky, 1865-1930. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1985.