Ida B. Wells, circa 1893
Ida B. Wells-Barnett (July 16, 1862–March 25, 1931) was an American journalist and activist, particularly known for her anti-lynching work.
Ida Bell Wells was born in 1862 to enslaved parents in Holly Springs, Mississippi. After emancipation, her family remained in Mississippi; but when Wells was 16, her parents and a younger brother died during an outbreak of yellow fever. Wells, as the oldest child, began working as a teacher to support her siblings. In 1882, Wells moved to Memphis, Tennessee, where she continued teaching and attended Fisk University.
Journalism & Activism
In 1884, Wells sued a railroad company for forcibly removing her from a first-class train car for which she had purchased a ticket. Wells won the lawsuit, though the ruling was later overturned by the Tennessee Supreme Court.
During this time, Wells also wrote for various Black newspapers, often under the pseudonym “Iola.” In 1889, she became editor of a Memphis newspaper called the Free Speech.
After three of her friends were murdered in Memphis by a white mob in 1892, Wells began focusing her journalism on the lynchings of Black Americans. She wrote investigative pieces (e.g., “Southern Horrors,” 1892; “The Red Record,” 1895) that revealed the prevalence of lynching and challenged assumptions about its causes.
In 1893 and 1894, Wells traveled to Great Britain on speaking tours about lynching in America.
Marriage & Children
Wells married lawyer Ferdinand L. Barnett in 1895 and adopted the surname Wells-Barnett. The couple lived in Chicago and had 4 children together, in addition to 2 children from Barnett’s previous marriage.
Later Life & Death
In Chicago, Wells-Barnett continued her work on social justice causes, including women’s rights and civil rights. She fought for women’s suffrage, in addition to battling segregation, racial inequality, and prejudice.
She helped found and was a member of numerous organizations, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs, and Alpha Suffrage Club, among others. In 1930, she unsuccessfully ran for a seat in the Illinois state senate.
Ida Wells-Barnett passed away from kidney disease in 1931 at age 68 in Chicago.
Learn more about Ida B. Wells through historical newspapers from our archives. Explore newspaper articles, headlines, images, and other primary sources below.
Articles and Clippings about Ida B. Wells
Ida B. Wells is listed as a teacher at Saffarans Street School in Memphis, Tennessee, 1884 28 Sep 1884, Sun Memphis Daily Appeal (Memphis, Tennessee) Newspapers.comIda B. Wells wins lawsuit against railroad company for forcing her from first-class coach, 1884 25 Dec 1884, Thu The Tennessean (Nashville, Tennessee) Newspapers.comOpinion piece "Race Pride" by Ida B. Wells under pseudonym "Iola" for the American Baptist, 1887 05 Mar 1887, Sat The Appeal (Saint Paul, Minnesota) Newspapers.comIda B. Wells, Memphis Free Speech editor, speaks at meeting for "Educators of Colored Youth," 1891 30 Dec 1891, Wed Nashville Banner (Nashville, Tennessee) Newspapers.comLeaf-Chronicle's reaction to Ida B. Wells' anti-lynching editorial in the Free Speech, 1892 27 May 1892, Fri The Leaf-Chronicle (Clarksville, Tennessee) Newspapers.comIda B. Wells forced to leave Memphis by white mob after publishing editorial on lynching, 1892 11 Jun 1892, Sat The Washington Bee (Washington, District of Columbia) Newspapers.comAd for an October 1892 lecture by Ida B. Wells in Washington DC with subject of "Southern Mob Rule" 29 Oct 1892, Sat The Washington Bee (Washington, District of Columbia) Newspapers.comBoston Globe's spotlight on Ida B. Wells and her work as a journalist, 1892 29 Nov 1892, Tue The Boston Globe (Boston, Massachusetts) Newspapers.comIda B. Wells speaks on lynching to members of the British Parliament, 1894 10 Jun 1894, Sun Reynolds's Newspaper (London, Greater London, England) Newspapers.comNewspaper picture of Ida B. Wells, accompanied by a list of her achievements, 1895 03 Jun 1895, Mon Emporia Daily Republican (Emporia, Kansas) Newspapers.comMarriage of Ida B. Wells to Ferdinand L. Barnett, including description of wedding ceremony, 1895 28 Jun 1895, Fri The Chicago Chronicle (Chicago, Illinois) Newspapers.comIda Wells-Barnett delivers lecture on issues including voting, segregation, and lynching, 1895 17 Aug 1895, Sat Buffalo Courier (Buffalo, New York) Newspapers.comIda Wells-Barnett gives an account of how she became involved in anti-lynching work, 1895 22 Aug 1895, Thu Buffalo Weekly Express (Buffalo, New York) Newspapers.comIda Wells-Barnett and others speak with U.S. president William McKinley about lynching, 1898 22 Mar 1898, Tue Chicago Tribune (Chicago, Illinois) Newspapers.comIda Wells-Barnett opposes "drawing of the color line" at convention of women's clubs, 1900 08 Jun 1900, Fri The Inter Ocean (Chicago, Illinois) Newspapers.comPhoto of members of the National Afro-American Council, including Ida Wells-Barnett, 1902 19 Jul 1902, Sat The Appeal (Saint Paul, Minnesota) Newspapers.comIda Wells-Barnett speaks at conference about prevalence of lynching over past 25 years, 1909 01 Jun 1909, Tue St. Louis Post-Dispatch (St. Louis, Missouri) Newspapers.comIda Wells-Barnett is photographed marching in a women's suffrage parade in Washington DC, 1913 05 Mar 1913, Wed Chicago Tribune (Chicago, Illinois) Newspapers.comAccount of Ida Wells-Barnett's decision to march with Illinois delegation in suffrage parade, 1913 04 Mar 1913, Tue Chicago Tribune (Chicago, Illinois) Newspapers.comIda Wells-Barnett asks for donations to help the Negro Fellowship League in Chicago, 1915 22 Dec 1915, Wed Chicago Tribune (Chicago, Illinois) Newspapers.comNewspaper editorial criticizes what it calls the "over-zealousness" of Ida Wells-Barnett, 1919 21 Jun 1919, Sat Richmond Planet (Richmond, Virginia) Newspapers.comIda Wells-Barnett runs for Illinois state senate against Adelbert Roberts, 1930 09 Apr 1930, Wed Chicago Tribune (Chicago, Illinois) Newspapers.comChicago Tribune obituary for Ida Wells-Barnett, 1931 25 Mar 1931, Wed Chicago Tribune (Chicago, Illinois) Newspapers.comNew York Age obituary for Ida Wells-Barnett, 1931 04 Apr 1931, Sat The New York Age (New York, New York) Newspapers.com