Molly Crusen Bishop: Elizabeth Lindsay Davis an overlooked treasure

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elizabeth davis

Elizabeth Lindsay Davis is one of Peoria’s overlooked treasures. Elizabeth was an African American woman born before the Civil War who used her brilliant mind to educate, write and fight for rights for other African Americans as well as for the women’s suffrage cause.

Pre-civil war times in Peoria had ardent groups on both sides of the slavery issue. Both pro-slavery and abolition groups were heavily involved in all matters of politics, religion, and business in Peoria. There were even newspapers on both sides of the issue.

Peoria was also a part of the Underground Railroad.

In Peoria and all over the United States after the Civil War, African Americans continued to fight many uphill battles to obtain their rights as new citizens to vote and to be a part of our education system.

Elizabeth Lindsay Davis was born in Peoria, Illinois in 1855 to Thomas H. Lindsay and Sophia Jane Lindsay. Her parents came to Peoria from Kentucky. Thomas Lindsay was given credit as being a State of Illinois pioneer. He was Peoria’s first African American market master in downtown Peoria. He also owned land in Peoria and was a huge activist for African Americans in Peoria.

Around 1860 the first school for African American children was opened in Peoria in the Ward Chapel AME Church. It was limited in hours and season compared with other Peoria schools at the time, which left the African American children’s education minimal at best.

Elizabeth was educated for a few years in Peoria, until her parents found an integrated school in Princeton, Illinois. She attended Union School and graduated from Princeton Township High School in 1873. Incidentally, Princeton was also a vital city on the Underground Railroad path to freedom in Canada.

Elizabeth became a teacher and educated children in Iowa, Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois. She eventually married Dr. William Davis and they moved to Chicago and settled there. Around 1896 she founded the Chicago Chapter of the Phyllis Wheatley Woman’s Club and served as its president for 29 years. The purpose of the club was to help improve conditions for African American women by providing social and civic services such as temporary housing, education, and other provisions needed to help lift them up in life. 

She was also one of the original members of the National Association of Colored Women in Washington, D.C. and served as one of its national organizers for more than nine years. She also fought tirelessly for the rights of African Americans and for the women’s right to vote.

Elizabeth was the “go to” person for African American history and was author to numerous books, speeches, magazine articles. She wrote many lengthy chronicles on African American history and became a National Historian. 

The most famous book she authored was titled “Lifting As They Climb,” which was published in 1933. It was brilliant and heartfelt and states wonderfully how African Americans are God’s creations and are equal in every way as all American citizens should be.

Elizabeth helped form dozens of women’s clubs in cities all over Illinois. She even helped form one in Peoria called The Peoria Negro Women’s Aid Club. She was a local, state, and national leader and historian. The impact this Peoria native made in the world is huge and she fought tirelessly using her brilliant mind to help lift others up.

Our country has a lot of history that has been overlooked or stifled and it is time to add all of the missing heroes, triumphs, and tragedies into our history books. Elizabeth Lindsay Davis is just one of these heroes.  I will continue researching into Elizabeth’s family and will write a series on them and others including abolitionists who made impacts on Peoria and African American history as well as our United States history.

About the Author
Molly is a life-long Peorian and an author, speaker, and storyteller. She is married to Doug Bishop and has five children and one grandchild. Molly loves history and Peoria and loves to share her passions with anyone she can get to listen to her. She loves to research, interview, and write or speak about history. The youngest and ninth child of Don and Joani Crusen, she grew up on the West Bluff in the house her great grandparents built in the 1880s. She writes a historical column in Woman’s View magazine, and will be writing a column called The Peorian Perspective in The Peorian.