Whenever the history of the National Urban League (NUL) is cited, luminaries such as George Edmund Haynes, Eugene Kinckle Jones, and even a white woman—co-founder Ruth Standish Baldwin—are mentioned. Rarely is a Black woman included among these early pioneers, even though Verina Harris Morton Jones should be considered.
Born on January 28, 1865, in Cleveland, Ohio, Morton Jones was an acclaimed doctor, suffragette, and member of several women’s organizations. Not much has been published about her formative years, but she was apparently from good stock and home training. She enrolled at the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1884, and earned a medical degree four years later. After graduation, she moved to Holly Springs, Mississippi, where she became a physician in residence at Rust College, at the same time, teaching in the college’s industrial school. She was the first woman to pass the state medical board of examination, thus becoming the first woman to practice medicine in Mississippi.
In 1890, she married Dr. Walter A. Morton and they moved to Brooklyn, where she set up practice. She achieved another first when she began practicing in Long Island’s Nassau County. Always seeking ways to expand her social and professional career, she was active in the Kings County Medical Society, as well as the NAACP, directing their Mother’s Club in Brooklyn. It should be noted that she was among the few women actively involved in the famed Niagara Movement’s female auxiliary, from 1905 to 1906. She also worked with the Committee for Improving Industrial Conditions for Negroes in New York City.
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While a resident of Brooklyn, Morton Jones co-founded the Lincoln Settlement House with Mary White Ovington. She provided the funds for the down payment on its building at 129 Willoughby Street. By May of 1908, she was at the helm of the settlement house, which was an extension of Lillian Wald’s Henry Street Settlement. At the Lincoln facility, children were enrolled without charge and could also participate in a day nursery and clinic. A full agenda of activities filled the day at the center, including a popular debate, classes in sewing, choral groups, folk dancing, cooking, carpentry, and embroidery as part of the outreach activities. It was fully incorporated in 1911 and relocated to a larger facility at Fleet Place.
As a suffragette, Morton Jones was president of the Brooklyn Equal Suffrage League. In this capacity, she conducted programs to educate voters, help document racial discrimination at voting places, and later testified before investigative committees of Congress.
Her renown as a social activist earned her a wide reputation, leading to her being elected to the board of directors of the NAACP. Her friendship and working relationship with Ovington may have played a role in her becoming active in the Urban League, which traced its origins to several social formations, including the National League for the Protection of Colored Women.
Two years later, in 1913, Morton Jones was elected to the board of directors of the NAACP; she served on its executive committee until 1925. Her multitude of social and political organizations didn’t appear to interrupt her medical practice, which by this time had relocated to Hempstead.
Her new environs did not interfere with her dedication to community activities, most notably in helping organize the Harriet Tubman Community Club in1928, which complemented her leadership at the settlement house.
Morton Jones was an Episcopalian. She and her husband had one son, who became an attorney. Morton died in 1895. Six years later, she married Emory Jones. She died on February 8, 1943, in Brooklyn at 78.