Wendell P. Dabney      

Guide to African American Resources
at the Cincinnati History Library and Archives




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Cincinnati History
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Marian A. Spencer
  Marian Alexander Spencer was born in Gallipolis, Ohio in 1920. Spencer, her twin sister, two brothers and parents lived in the home her grandfather, a freed slave from West Virginia, built after moving to Gallipolis. She began her long career as an activist for civil rights when she became a member of the NAACP at age 13. In 1938, Spencer graduated from Gallia Academy High in Gallipolis where she was co-valedictorian and a member of the National Honor Society. After graduation, she moved to Cincinnati to attend the University of Cincinnati where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in English in 1942. In 1940, she married Donald A. Spencer, a Cincinnati teacher and real estate broker. They had two sons, Donald Jr. and Edward Alexander.  
Perhaps one of Spencer’s earliest most visible civil rights activities came in 1952 when she chaired the NAACP Legal Action vs. Coney Island. The case started when Spencer’s sons heard a radio ad inviting children to Coney Island to meet a local TV personality. She telephoned to ask if the invitation applied to all children and was assured that it did; however, when Spencer added, “We are Negroes,” the Coney Island representative admitted the invitation did not extend to Negro children. Spencer filed suit and subsequently won the case, which desegregated Coney Island.
Spencer campaign handbill
Spencer campaign handbill
Marian A. Spencer Papers, 1954-1985, Mss 888, Box 28, Item 43
Cincinnati History Library and Archives, Cincinnati Museum Center

Spencer spent a lifetime as a community servant and civil rights activist, working especially hard to desegregate public schools. She became a life member of NAACP, serving on the Executive Board, as chairman of both the Legal Redress and Education committees, and in 1981, became the first female president of the Cincinnati branch. Spencer also served as chairperson of the Community Steering Committee for Indigent Defense, as chairperson of the Ohio Civil Rights Commission, and as president of both Woman’s City Club and Links, Inc. In addition, Spencer was a member of the University of Cincinnati’s Board of Trustees. In 1983, she was elected to Cincinnati City Council as a Charterite and served for one term.
Spencer’s career included numerous achievements as well as many awards and honors for her contributions to human service organizations and civic volunteer work. Among them are: Cincinnati Enquirer Woman of the Year Award; Brotherhood Award, National Conference of Christians and Jews; YWCA Career Woman of Achievement Award; and Humanitarian Award, Freedom Heritage Foundation of Columbus, Ohio.
Letter from Marian A. Spencer
Letter from Marian A. Spencer to Senator Stan Aronoff, November 14, 1985
Marian A. Spencer Papers, 1954-1985, Mss 888, Box 12, Folder 21
Cincinnati History Library and Archives, Cincinnati Museum Center

To learn more about Marian A. Spencer, consult the following resources:

Marian A. Spencer Papers, 1954-1985
Mss 888
This collection primarily covers Spencer’s term on Cincinnati City Council from 1983 through 1985 and material from her 1983 campaign. There is also a small amount of material from Spencer’s service as a member and officer of the Cincinnati branch of NAACP. It includes correspondence, committee files and minutes, clippings, newsletters and other printed matter collected by Spencer during her career. The collection covers such topics as school desegregation, urban renewal, and housing among many others. For More information, a collection register is available in the Library.   View catalog record   Request slip
Adeline Harris Collection
Mss 1 AT, Interview 29
This oral interview with Marian A. Spencer on April 10, 1980 includes discussions on general biographical information, her work with the civil rights movement and the NAACP, and issues facing the African American community.    Request slip


Sources Used for Biographical Sketch:
  • Marian A. Spencer Papers, 1954-1985, Mss 888, and finding aid. Cincinnati History Library and Archives, Cincinnati Museum Center.
  • Newspaper Scrapbook. Cincinnati Government, Councilmen. Cincinnati History Library and Archives, Cincinnati Museum Center.
  • Adeline Harris Collection, Mss 1 AT, Interview 29, Tape 1. Cincinnati History Library and Archives, Cincinnati Museum Center.
  • Biographical Files. Archives and Rare Books Department, University Libraries, University of Cincinnati.


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This online guide opened on February 10, 2004.