Early 1917, Seymour attended an NAACP fundraiser against lynching, after in which she and other attendees discussed forming a local chapter. By October, a small group of African American officials were assembling in the living room of Frederick and Mary Seymour to initiate the Hartford chapter of the NAACP.
She remained active in the local chapter of the NAACP into the 1920’s and continued to exert influence behind the scenes long after she had resigned as chairperson of the chapter’s executive board in November 1926.
Like other African American female members of local NAACP chapters across the country, in the beginning of her time at the association, Seymour was restricted to the secretarial and administrative work of the chapter, also acting as the spokesperson in the absence of chairmen.
Seymour energized a marginalized community.
In February 1919, Alice Paul reaffirmed that if the 19th amendment were passed, it would not liberate minority women. She stated, “We are organizing the white women in South Carolina but have heard of no activity or anxiety among the Negresses.”
Seymour demanded an explanation from Paul and wrote her a letter; she later called the NAACP headquarters. As a result, NAACP national leaders leaned on Alice Paul and the National Woman’s Suffrage Association to clarify their goals on voting rights for African American women; however, their responses were evasive and unsatisfactory.
The suffrage movement should have been a unifying cause for women of all color. However, Paul was interested in securing the support of southern white women, in order to retain southern senators and congressmen. She announced that they were interested only in removing the gender requirement for the vote. Furthering, how states chose to qualify voters was of no interest to them.
It was a stance that African American suffragists like Seymour opposed. African American women had to fight gender, class and racial barriers; and leaders like Paul were creating boundaries instead of providing bridges.
In 1920, Seymour ran for state representative on the Farmer-Labor Party ticket. She was the first African American woman to run for the Connecticut State Assembly. Although she did not win the election, her campaign for candidacy is unprecedented.
At her death on January 12, 1957, newspapers eulogized her career and life as a respected Connecticut influencer. Buried in Hartford’s Old North Cemetery, her grave is a site on the Connecticut Freedom Trail. In 1997, Mary Seymour Place was opened in Hartford to provide supportive housing for homeless women and children to honor her legacy.
An unacknowledged revolutionist, Mary Townsend Seymour was able to transcend the restrictions placed on minorities, women, and the poor. With roots in the soil of Hartford, Conn. and a record in inciting and executing change in the community , it is instrumental for minorities of the Connecticut urban communities to acknowledge the ceilings Seymour has broken in order for us to step through unscathed.