Elizabeth Piper Ensley (c.1850 - ?)
Elizabeth Piper Ensley was an influential African American civic leader in Colorado. Born in the East, Ensley studied abroad in Germany and France and was responsible for establishing a public library in Boston. Ensley and her husband, Horwell N. Ensley, both taught at Howard University in the 1880s before moving to Colorado around 1890.
Denver, like most western towns, tolerated blacks by segregating them. Schools, restaurants, and theaters separated blacks from their white counterparts. At the end of the nineteenth century, Denver's black community comprised only two percent of the total population. Female community members banded together to form a vibrant and organized network of clubs for fostering social change. Suffrage, temperance, poverty, and unwed mothers were some of their causes.
Ensley stood out among the clubwomen: she helped found the Women's League in 1894; she was treasurer of the Equal Suffrage Association; and she founded the Colorado Association of Colored Women's Clubs (NACW) in 1904. Most of Denver's 3,000 blacks were domestic servants, cooks, and laundresses by day. Despite long hours of menial work, black women found time to be civic leaders and bring about community improvements.
Ensley wrote about Colorado's first election in which women voted (1894) for the Woman's Era, the national publication of the NACW. Ensley's work organizing clubs formed the basis for generations of women to participate in civic change and build stronger communities.