This Investigative Journalist and Suffragist Won a Pulitzer Prize for Her Courageous Reporting

Who: Ida B. Wells, investigative journalist, civil rights crusader, and women’s rights activist; July 16, 1862–March 25, 1931

Why She Dazzles: Born into slavery, Ida fought for civil rights and became an advocate for woman suffrage for Black women. She was one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), as well as the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs, which became the largest federation of local Black women’s clubs and addressed challenges related to woman suffrage and civil rights. In 1913 Ida traveled to Washington, D.C., to march in the first suffrage parade, where she was advised to walk in the back with other Black suffragettes, so as not to upset the southern delegates. Ida refused and walked with her own Illinois delegation—a move that received national media coverage and highlighted Black women in politics. 

Why You Need to Know Her Today: Ida was one of the most prominent journalists and activists of her era. She began her career writing about race and politics in the South and eventually became an owner of the Memphis Free Speech. She became world-renowned for her in-depth reporting that exposed lynching as a barbaric practice of white people. In retaliation, a white mob burned her newspaper’s office down and she received death threats. Nevertheless, she persisted. Ida continued her anti-lynching crusade as one of its leading activists in history. In 2020 she was posthumously honored with a Pulitzer Prize, “for her outstanding and courageous reporting on the horrific and vicious violence against African Americans during the era of lynching.”

What She Would Say—Because She Said It Then: “The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them."

Where She May Like to Instagram: Chicago. Ida moved here in 1894 and married Ferdinand Lee Barnett, the founder and editor of the city's first Black newspaper. Her influence made a lasting impact on the city, especially as she advanced the cause of Black equality and power both nationwide and locally. She founded the first suffragist organization for Black women, established the first kindergarten for Black children, and created the Negro Fellowship League, which helped situate Black people arriving to Chicago during the Great Migration. Ida later ran for the Illinois legislature; she was one of the first Black women to run for public office in the U.S. Her house remains a national historic landmark.

What the Ladies Rocked Then: Ida disregarded society’s standards when she married. Rather than changing her maiden name, she hyphenated it to Wells-Barnett, something most women would never even consider in the late 19th century. Photographs show Ida wearing dainty pearl necklaces and brooches—delicate yet dazzling. 

How You Can Rock It Now: Earrings were considered “semi-barbaric” by Vogue in 1901, but they gained popularity—and length—later in the early 20th century. By the 1920s long, dangling earrings with costume or cultured pearls enhanced the neck and contributed to the era’s emphasis on freedom and movement. Once deemed “too wild,” earrings are especially popular now that we can’t see faces behind masks; we only see eyes and ears.

Shop the Sparkle: Press ForwardThe Suffragist

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Ida B. Wells: Beautiful. Bold. Brilliant.