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.
Marian A. Spencer Papers, 1954-1985, Mss 888, Box 28, Item 43
Cincinnati History Library and Archives, Cincinnati
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.
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
Marian A. Spencer Papers, 1954-1985
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
Mss 1 AT, Interview 29
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
Adeline Harris Collection, Mss 1 AT,
Interview 29, Tape 1. Cincinnati History Library and Archives, Cincinnati
Biographical Files. Archives and Rare Books
Department, University Libraries, University of Cincinnati.