Margaret Briggs Gregory Hawkins (1877-1969) was a Baltimore Public School teacher, civil rights activist, and humanitarian. A resident of Baltimore for 50 years, her contributions sought to improve social and economic opportunities for all. (msa.maryland.gov/)

By Sheila Gregory Thomas and Ida Jones, Ph.D

There have frequently been persons in days gone by whose commitment and contributions to community were significant, but, with the passing of time, unacknowledged. Such an individual was Margaret Briggs Gregory Hawkins.  A resident of Baltimore for over 50 years, with deep roots in Maryland, she was recently inducted into the Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame. 

Upon graduation from Boston University, Margaret Gregory was afforded a teaching position in Bordentown, NJ.  She spent 2 years there until an opportunity arose at the Douglass high school in Baltimore— and thus began her life and trajectory of service as a Marylander. It was at Douglass, where she taught American History, that she met her soon- to- be husband, Mason A. Hawkins, a teacher of Latin and German. Mr. Hawkins eventually became principal of the school, and later head of the education department at Morgan State College.  Margaret Gregory Hawkins successfully combined being a wife and the mother of two sons with estimable contributions to her community.

(Photo: AFRO Archives article on March 20, 1943)

She was an organizer of the still active Dubois Circle, a group of Baltimore African American women who in 1907 formed an auxiliary group to assist in the work of W. E. B. Dubois’s Niagara Movement, precursor of the NAACP.  Hawkins was elected as the group’s first president. Under her leadership, the women led the fight to address social, political and racial injustices faced by African Americans in Jim Crow Baltimore; most notably, the fight to obtain educational equality, the fight against Black male disenfranchisement and the fight for women’s suffrage. She served as Division Lieutenant in the Maryland Food Conservation Army during WWI and assisted in the organization of the local USO during WWII. 

Mrs. Hawkins joined with other Baltimore African American women in the effort to better their community, becoming a member of the Women’s Cooperative Civic League, the Maryland Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs and the Maryland Federation of Christian Women.  In acknowledgement of her commitment to create a better life for her community’s young women, she was elected chair of the board of the Druid Hill Avenue Branch of the YWCA and held the distinction of being the first African American woman to serve on the executive committee of the board of the Central Branch. Additionally, Hawkins was the first African American woman appointed by the Governor to the board of managers of the Maryland Training School for Colored Girls. 

Two significant influences in Mrs. Hawkins’ life were women: her maternal grandmother Margaret Mahammitt Whiting Hagan and her mother Fannie Whiting Hagan Gregory, born in Frederick in 1825 and 1856 respectively. On the very outbreak of the Civil War, her grandmother, a free woman, fled Maryland for Pennsylvania, where she became a much admired businesswoman.  Following the untimely death of her husband, James Monroe Gregory, a prominent educator, Fannie Gregory took a position with the YWCA as director of a WWI Hostess House. Their self-confidence and independent spirit were passed on to Margaret Briggs Gregory Hawkins, a woman to be remembered.

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