A Biography of Rev. Anna R. Woodbey

Rev. Anna R. Woodbey (1855-1901), North Omaha, Nebraska

Lots of people today don’t like the idea of Prohibition. After an experiment banning alcohol statewide from 1917-1933, the majority of people in Nebraska didn’t like it either. However, one woman from North Omaha made it her life’s work to ban the demon’s spirit, juice, sauce, hooch, vino, and liquid courage from everywhere, all the time. This is a biography of Rev. Anna R. Woodbey.

Roaring Younger Years

“The distinguished lady orator of Omaha.”

Omaha World-Herald May 4, 1897

According to the US Census, Anna R. Woodbey (1855-1901), called Annie, was born February 1855 in Pennsylvania. Growing up, she lived in Ontario and Michigan, and in Kansas in 1871. While she was still young, Annie spoke to large audiences about temperance, suffrage and Prohibition.

Annie married George Washington Woodbey (1854-1937) in 1873 in Emporia, Kansas. The couple had three children. Their children were Mary L. Woodbey (1881-c.1976), George L. Woodbey (1884-) and William S. Woodbey (1890-1974). The family moved to Omaha around 1882.

In Omaha, the couple became very active in political and religious activities. George was ordained as a Baptist minister in Omaha, and spoke widely about temperance. Annie continued her speaking, and was called “the distinguished lady orator of Omaha” by more than one newspaper, and often lectured in cities across Nebraska. In 1885, she became the first African American woman to become a member of the Omaha Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, serving as the president in the early 1890s.

In 1894, George Woodbey ran for U.S. Congress as a member of the Prohibition Party, a political party focused on eliminating alcohol that was popular in Nebraska.

Politics of Prohibition

1892 National Prohibition Party Convention
This is a pic of the 1892 National Prohibition Party Convention. Annie Woodbey’s husband, Rev. George Washington Woodbey, was present at this event.

“Mrs. Woodbey is, we think, the first Negro woman ever honored with a nomination on a state ticket by any political party in the United States.”

Our Nation’s Anchor, July 25, 1895

In 1895, the Nebraska Prohibition Party nominated Anna R. Woodbey to become a Regent of the University of Nebraska. In a backhanded compliment, the North Platte Semi-Weekly Tribune of October 11, 1895 said, “It may not be generally known that Mrs. Anna R. Woodbey, one of the prohibition nominees of the state university is a colored woman, yet such is a fact. She is a woman possessing an excellent education, and if elected, which of course she will not be, would fill the position with credit.” That same year, she was elected the secretary of the Nebraska Prohibition Party, which was their lead role.

Starting in 1897, Annie R. Woodbey was referred to as the minister of Ebenezer Baptist Church, located at 627 North 27th Street. She and her husband were also attributed with preaching at Mt. Pisgah Baptist Church in the late 1890s, and she conducted revival meetings in Jefferson Square in 1900.

Rev. Anna R. Woodbey died in Omaha in 1901. Her husband became an important leader in the American Socialist movement in the early 20th century.

As of February 2020, I have not been able to locate her grave. If you have more information let me know.

Thanks to Charles Holm for inspiring this article.

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Elsewhere Online

  • “Rev. George W. and Annie R. Woodbey: Love, faith and Black populism, 1874-1901” by Charles Holm for the University of Texas at Austin.
  • Prohibition Party Candidates,” History Nebraska
  • Woodbey for Regent!” from History Nebraska

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