The Searchlight Club (1904-?)

Search Light Club charter members, ca. 1904, History of Cheyenne, Wyoming (Curtis Media Corporation, 1989), p. 432
Courtesy Wyoming State Library

The Searchlight Club was a service-based group organized in 1904 for African American women in Cheyenne, Wyoming. It was the first women’s club in Cheyenne specifically for African American women.

The Black Women’s Club Movement spread across the nation beginning in the 1890s paving the way for black women to become involved as reformers and civic activists to address issues they faced in their communities. Cheyenne’s Searchlight Club was a product of the national movement and a response to the lynching of an African American man, Joe Martin, in the neighboring town of Laramie, Wyoming. According to Sudie Smith Rhone, whose daughter Harriett Elizabeth Byrd would later serve as the club president, the Searchlight Club was the only women’s club available strictly for black women in Cheyenne at that time. Rhone explained that black women were allowed to join the white women’s clubs in town, but rarely chose to do so. They felt uncomfortable and unwelcome. The prejudice and nonacceptance of blacks in the community kept the women’s groups segregated.

Racial prejudice was not the only factor that kept the groups segregated. Activities and interests of the African American women differed from those of the white women. For example, the Searchlight Club was formed in response to a lynching. The African American women likely joined together in Cheyenne to offer needed support to the black community in response to the threat of violence. The Searchlight Club provided an avenue for African American women in Cheyenne to address political and social reform as well as form friendships and support for the African American community.

Very little is known about the activities of the club or when it ended its existence. It was created however to address the particular needs and interests of the African American women in Cheyenne.