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Indianapolis Women's History Tour
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Indiana State Federation of Colored Women's Clubs, also known as the Minor House, is a historic National Association of Colored Women's Clubs clubhouse. The Club was founded by Lillian Thomas Fox (1866-1917), a leading member of the Indianapolis African American community and the first black woman to work for a white Indiana newspaper. Fox and Beulah Wright Porter, the first black woman physician to institute a practice in Indianapolis, founded the Indianapolis Colored Women’s Improvement Club in 1903 and the Indiana State Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs in 1904. Fox used her role as a prominent, middle-class African American woman to enact social reforms in the Progressive Era.


  • The Indiana State Federation of Colored Women's Clubs as it looked in 2010
  • Lillian Thomas Fox in 1927
  • The historical marker next to the building
  • Cartoon depicting the travails of African American railway travel.  Appeared in the Indianapolis Freeman newspaper on January 30, 1892.

Lillian Thomas Fox was born in Chicago but grew up in Wisconsin.[1]  Her father was Rev. Byrd Parker, an AME pastor, and her mother was Jane Janette Johnson, a schoolteacher.  After the death of Rev. Parker, Fox’s mother married Robert E. Thomas, a barber, and Fox adopted the last name Thomas.[2]  Fox moved to Indianapolis with her family in the 1880s, where she met James E. Fox, a Jamaican tailor.  The couple subsequently married in 1893 but separated after only two years.[3]

When Fox moved to Indianapolis, she quickly became one of the city’s leading African American citizens, using what African American historian Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham calls “the politics of respectability” to improve her black Indianapolis community.[4]  She briefly worked as a stenographer, seamstress, and hairdresser, and was hired as the only female journalist at the African American publication Indianapolis Freeman in 1891.[5]  The newspaper was primarily sponsored by Booker T. Washington and, in line with his philosophy of improvement through financial growth, held a mandate to work for “Negro self-betterment through economic independence.”[6]  Although Fox left the paper after her marriage, she later joined the staff of Indianapolis News in 1900, thus becoming the first black woman to be hired as a fulltime journalist by a white Indiana newspaper.[7]  Fox celebrated the power of journalism in a speech for the Afro-American Press Association that same year, remarking that “no human device holds a more exalted place in mankind’s regard than does the pen.”[8]  In 1904, Fox used her “News of the Colored Folk” columnn to spearhead a successful donation campaign for victims of severe flooding.[9]  

In 1895, Fox sued the Southern Railroad after she encountered forcible segregation on a journey from Indianapolis to Atlanta.  The Ladies Auxiliary to the Cotton States and National Exposition had invited Fox to speak at the Atlanta Congress of Colored Women, a meeting attended by nationally prominent black women such as Fannie Barrier Williams, Frances E. W. Harper, and Mrs. Booker T. Washington.  Fox set out from Indianapolis on a first-class ticket but, when she reached Chattanooga, TN just before one in the morning, the new conductor informed her that she was required to leave her seat and move to a segregated section located in the smoking car.  When the conductor threatened Fox with physical violence, she replied that such actions “would prove the most expensive service [he] had ever rendered the company by which he was employed.”[10]  The conductor responded by tossing Fox’s luggage off the train.  As she began to gather her belongings, the train pulled out, leaving her standing alone in the dark.  Although Fox’s fellow passengers successfully demanded that the train to stop to allow her to board, she was unable to regain her original seat.  Upon her return home, Fox filed a suit against the railroad company in both Indianapolis and Atlanta.  However, the outcome of her legal case is not known.[11]

In addition to her journalistic accomplishments, Fox is perhaps best known for her activities as a leading Indianapolis clubwoman.  In partnership with Beulah Wright Porter, the first black woman physician to practice in Indianapolis, Fox founded a local Colored Women’s Improvement Club (CWIC) in 1903 and expanded the organization into a state federation the following year.  Although CWIC began as a literary society, the group turned to community service activities in 1905.  Fox was intimately familiar with the effects of tuberculosis, having seen her mother and brother die from the disease in 1893, and she thus instituted the Oak Hill Camp for black tuberculosis patients.  Black sufferers, who were barred from seeking treatment elsewhere, lived at the outdoor facility throughout the summer, and Fox solicited donations from both black and white community members in order to fund the project.[12]  Moreover, in 1913, Fox enacted “Temple of Progress,” a play of her own creation depicting African American uplift.  The event raised $22.05 for philanthropic activity.[13] 

The CWIC building was constructed in 1897, and is a 2 1/2-story, "T"-plan, Colonial Revival style frame building. It sits on a brick foundation and a gable roof with hipped dormers. Originally built as a private dwelling, the building has housed the Indiana State Federation of Colored Women's Clubs since its purchase in 1927. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1987.  The historical marker that currently sits next to the Club’s building states: “Organized 1904 by Lillian Thomas Fox with 14 clubs. Affiliated with National Association of Colored Women's Clubs, founded 1896. Objectives include improvement of education, health, living standards, inter-racial understanding. Clubhouse at 2034 N. Capitol since 1927. Listed in National Register of Historic Places, 1987.”

In addition to her myriad club activities, Fox continued to work as a journalist until 1915, when she was forced to retire due to failing eyesight.  Two years later, Fox passed away from a heart attack.  At a time when the social roles of black women were beginning to expand, Fox used her journalistic abilities, leadership skills, and civic consciousness to enact social reforms.  As she worked to improve the black Indianapolis community, Fox was, in many ways, an ideal woman of the Progressive Era.  In recognition of her accomplishments, she was inducted into the 2014 Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame.


[1]  Sources offer differing details of Fox’s life.  According to journalist Julie Slaymaker, Fox was born in 1854 and her father, Rev. Parker, died in 1860.  However, according to the 1910 census record, she was born in 1866.  Moreover, history scholar Earline Rae Ferguson writes that Fox was widowed, while Slaymaker writes that Fox separated from her husband, who subsequently left the Indianapolis area.  Ferguson also writes that Fox had no children, yet the 1910 census record notes that she had two children not living with her.  Julie Slaymaker, “Lillian Thomas Fox - 2014,” Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame, 2014, http://mediaschool.indiana.edu/ijhf/fox-lillian-thomas; 1910 U.S. census, Marion County, Indiana, Indianapolis City, Supervisor’s District No. 7, Enumeration District No. 99, Sheet No. 1, digital image, Ancestory.com, accessed April 6, 2017; Earline Rae Ferguson, “A Community Affair: African-American Women’s Club Work in Indianapolis, 1879-1917,” PhD diss., Indiana University, 1997.

[2]  Paula Burba, “Black History Month: Lillian Thomas Fox,” Courier-Journal (Louisville, KY), February 14, 2011; Julie Slaymaker, “Lillian Thomas Fox – 2014.”

[3]  Slaymaker, “Lillian Thomas Fox – 2014.”

[4]  The practice of respectability politics entailed non-confrontational behavior meant to demonstrate black civility.  See Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, Righteous Discontent: The Women’s Movement in the Black Baptist Church, 1880-1920 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1994).

[5] “Lillian T. Fox,” Hoosier Women: Women in Indiana History, accessed April 6, 2017, http://www.louisehillery.com/; Ferguson, “A Community Affair,” 29.

[6]  Slaymaker, “Lillian Thomas Fox – 2014.”

[7]  Star Library Staff, “Female columnnist was a state first,” Indianapolis Star, February 7, 2007.

[8]  Slaymaker, “Lillian Thomas Fox – 2014.”

[9]  Slaymaker, “Lillian Thomas Fox – 2014.”

[10]  Ferguson, “A Community Affair,” 29.

[11]  Ferguson, “A Community Affair.”

[12]  Katherine E. Badertscher, “Organized Charity and the Civic Ideal in Indianapolis 1879-1922,” PhD diss., Indiana University, 2015; Ferguson, “A Community Affair.”

[13]  Ferguson, “A Community Affair,” 27.

Badertscher, Katherine E. “Organized Charity and the Civic Ideal in Indianapolis 1879-1922.” PhD diss., Indiana University, 2015.

Bodenhamer, David J.; Barrows, Robert G. (1994-11-22). "Fox, Lillian Thomas". The Encyclopedia of Indianapolis. Indiana University Press. p. 597.

Burba, Paula. "“Black History Month: Lillian Thomas Fox”." Courier-Journal(Louisville, KY), February 14, 2011. 

Ferguson, Earline Rae. “A Community Affair: African-American Women’s Club Work in Indianapolis, 1879-1917.” PhD diss., Indiana University, 1997.

Higginbotham, Evelyn Brooks. Righteous Discontent: The Women’s Movement in the Black Baptist Church, 1880-1920. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1994.

Indiana Magazine of History. "Moment of Indiana History - Indiana Public Media | Above And Beyond: Lillian Thomas Fox & Beulah Wright Porter". WFIU Public Radio. 

"Indiana State Historic Architectural and Archaeological Research Database (SHAARD)" (Searchable database). Department of Natural Resources, Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology. Note: This includes Suzanne T. Rollins; Tiffany Hatfield; Eric Utz (July 1986). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory Nomination Form: Indiana State Federation of Colored Women's Clubs" (PDF). With accompanying photographs.

Slaymaker, Julie. "Fox, Lillian Thomas". Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame. 

Star Library Staff. “Female columnnist was a state first.” Indianapolis Star, February 7, 2007.

"6 selected for Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame". The Washington Times.