Ida Wells Barnett – Educator & Advocate

Ida B. Wells Barnett

Ida B. Wells Barnett

Ida B. Wells Barnett was an African-American educator, newspaperwoman, anti-lynching campaigner, and founder of the NAACP.

Born in Holly Springs, Mississippi on July 16, 1862, Ida Wells was freed by the Emancipation Proclamation during the Civil War. When she was just 16 years old, she lost both her parents and her infant brother in the 1878 yellow fever epidemic. She then dropped out of high school and found employment as a school teacher. In 1880, she moved to Memphis, Tennessee, and became a part-owner of the Memphis Free Speech newspaper, launching her activist career. Though a mob ransacked her offices and threatened her life if she did not leave town, she stood steady.

In 1895 she moved to Chicago, Illinois, where she married a widower and African-American rights advocate named Ferdinand Barnett. The couple published the Chicago Conservator, where Ida wrote many articles on the lynchings taking place in the south, as well as beginning to lecture widely. She was a founding member of the National Afro-American Council, served as its secretary, and was chairman of its Anti-Lynching Bureau. Wells was also a founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Wells-Barnett continued her tireless crusade for equal rights for African-Americans until she died in 1931.


© Kathy Alexander/Legends of America, updated November 2022.

Also See:

African American History in the United States

Historic Women List

Historic Women Photo Gallery

Women in American History