Sadie Peterson Delaney

Our online story about the extraordinary Sadie Peterson Delaney caught the attention of a big fan in England: Natty Mark Samuels, head of the African School in England. He was prompted to write a ballad dedicated to her, which is here performed by Poughkeepsie’s Angela Henry. The profile of Mrs. Delaney is below as well.

The Ballad of Sadie Delaney

By Natty Mark Samuels, head of the African School in England. Read by (Grace) Angela Henry (13 minutes).

Full program.

Poughkeepsie’s Sadie Delaney: Healing the Trauma of War Through Reading

This is an extract from an article published in the Northern/Southern Dutchess News on February 12, 2020, under the heading, African American Women’s Voices & Talents of a Century Ago by Bill Jeffway.

Sadie (Johnson) Peterson Delaney (1889 to 1958) was both ambitious and successful in expanding a field of health and healing driven by books, called Bibliotherapy.

We know from The Quill, the Parish newsletter of the the Smith Metropolitan AME Zion Church, that she was a prolific poet, and involved in many Church groups. From the October 21, 1915 issue:

Mrs Peterson is one of Zion’s staunch supporters. She possesses considerable literary ability, is a willing worker, a splendid young woman and of a congenial personality. She is a born poet. Her productions are practically all spontaneous efforts and yet she has but few equals in the amateur poetic world. Each of her poems grip with a peculiar fascination, being clothed in beautiful language, the pathos so tender and the whole so original, varied and novel that one is carried along as in a delightful dream of admiration. Mrs. Peterson is serving our church as President of the J. W. Hood Literary Society, President of the General Claims Auxiliary No. 2, Leader of the Children’s Class, Sabbath School Teacher, and member of the Busy Bee Sewing Circle. She is one of the daughters of Zion of whom we are proud.

New York State was having a referendum in the year 1915 on the question of women’s suffrage, of course only among male voters who were the only ones who could vote at the time. The question the ballot was whether the NY State constitution should be amended to allow women to vote.

In an effort to drum up support among African-Americans the Equal Suffrage League of Poughkeepsie, led by Laura Wiley of Vassar College, held a meeting at the Smith AME Zion Church, the African-American Church on Smith Street in Poughkeepsie in 1914, a year before the referendum. Among the women of that Church who stepped up and spoke in support of women’s suffrage was Sadie Johnson Peterson. Interested in writing at the time, she read an original poem called, “A Suffrage Call.” Unfortunately we do not know exactly what she said. Peterson had moved to Poughkeepsie as a child in 1899 when her father took the job of Sexton at St Paul’s Episcopal Church.

Sadie Peterson, 1915, Poughkeepsie.

Dr. Delaney.

She attended Poughkeepsie High School, and Miss McGovern’s School of Social Work, abley pivoting out of a difficult first marriage to focus on studying to become a librarian. She was 30 years old when she left Poughkeepsie to study at the 135th Street Branch of the New York City library system, now New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem. She was active there when the intellectual, musical and artistic activities of the Harlem Renaissance took place. Today, that library branch houses a collection of her letters, clippings and photographs.

In 1924, the remarried Sadie Peterson Delaney took a position as librarian at Tuskegee Veterans Administration hospital. There she developed and evolved the practice of Bibliotherapy, working with doctors to use books to heal both mental and physical wounds. Imagine, a time before television, before the pervasive TV screen appeared in our hospital rooms to distract us, Bibliotherapy was a deeply thoughtful concept that looked at a very holistic approach to healing. Eleanor Roosevelt in her column “My Day” wrote in January 1957 applauding Mrs. Delaney and her practice of bibliotherapy. Roosevelt explained that Mrs. Delaney served 1,000 patients. She had added a library binding service to give patients vocational experience. She started a department for the blind, and classes in braille.

At the Family Partnership building on North Hamilton Street you will find Poughkeepsie Public Library’s Sadie Peterson Delaney African Roots Library.