Clara Byrd Baker

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Clara Byrd Baker (June 22, 1886 – October 20, 1979) was an African-American educator, civic leader, and suffragette who fought for equal rights in the early 20th century. She was the first woman to vote in Williamsburg, Virginia.[1][2]

Personal background[edit]

Clara Olivia Byrd was born on June 22, 1886, in Williamsburg, Virginia. She was the daughter of Charles and Malvina Carey (née Braxton) Byrd. In 1905, she married William Baker, sexton of Bruton Parish Church.[3] Together, they had four children.[4]


Baker earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Education from Hampton Institute and Virginia State College for Negroes, predecessor to Virginia State University.[2]

Professional background[edit]


Baker began her teaching background in a one-room schoolhouse in James City County, Virginia, in 1902. In 1920, she began teaching at a public training school for African-American children. She later joined the faculty of Bruton Heights School, where she stayed until her retirement in 1952.[2][4]

Community involvement

Baker was a leader in the African-American community in Williamsburg, involved in public affairs focusing on education, interracial cooperation, and advocating for the right to vote for women. In 1920, she became the first woman in Williamsburg to vote, after the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified. In 1967, she was recognized by the superintendent of schools at a tribute gathering in her honor in Williamsburg. He stated that he could "not remember any worthwhile community-wide effort in which Baker had not participated".[2][4]

Honors and awards[edit]

Baker has received numerous honors from local and regional organizations for her work supporting education and civic opportunities. In 2007, she was honored by the Virginia State Library and Archives as an African American Trailblazer, which recognizes distinguished African Americans from the state of Virginia.[2][4] In 2011, her life was honored in To Be Seen as an American, by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, as one of three African-American women who "didn't accept society's limits on what they could accomplish".[5][6] Additional honors have included:

  • Meritorious Service Award – Virginia State University Alumni Association
  • Alumni of the Year Award – Virginia State University Alumni Association
  • Heritage Girl Scout Award for 25 years of service

Death and legacy[edit]

In 1967, Baker retired to Virginia Beach, where she continued volunteering throughout the community until her death on October 20, 1979. She is buried in Cedar Grove Cemetery in Williamsburg.[2]

In 1989, Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools named a Williamsburg, Virginia public elementary school in honor of Baker. Clara Byrd Baker Elementary School was opened in September 1989. The school was initially built to support 600 students. In 1992, the capacity of the school was expanded to provide educational opportunities for 800 students.[7]


  1. ^ "Activists By Many Other Names - Daily Press". 2005-08-11. Retrieved 2012-01-15. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f Kneebone, John T. et al., eds. Dictionary of Virginia Biography: Volume I, Aaroe - Blanchfield, Library of Virginia, pps. 288–289, 1998. ISBN 978-0-88490-189-1
  3. ^ Gonzales, Donald J. The Rockefellers at Williamsburg: backstage with the founders, restorers, and world-renowned guests, EPM Publications, page 143, 1991. ISBN 978-0-939009-53-4
  4. ^ a b c d "African–American History Month at the Library of Virginia". Retrieved 2012-01-15. 
  5. ^ "Program Portrays Trailblazing Williamsburg Women". 2011-05-04. Retrieved 2012-01-15. 
  6. ^ "Learn more about women’s lives at the museums this fall : What's New : Colonial Williamsburg Official Site". 2011-10-28. Retrieved 2012-01-15. 
  7. ^ "WJCC Public Schools: Schools: Clara Byrd Baker Elementary School". Retrieved 2012-01-15. 

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