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The Mighty Marian: Marian Spencer

To look at Marian Spencer you'd never guess that she boldly goes where others fear to tread. Now, in her 90s, Spencer has a steely determination that belies her diminutive size.

Marian SpencerHow is history made? Who makes that history? 

To look at Marian Spencer you'd never guess that she boldly goes where others fear to tread. Mrs. Spencer, a Jacob E. Davis Volunteer Leadership Award winner, has a steely determination that belies her diminutive size.

A long-time civil rights activist, Mrs. Spencer is a Cincinnati icon well known for her tireless advocacy of civil rights and equal treatment of minorities. 

In 1952, she chaired the NAACP Legal Action vs. Coney Island, Cincinnati, Ohio. The Cincinnati History and Library Archives describes the genesis of this key desegregation action, “The case started when Spencer’s sons heard a radio ad inviting children to Coney Island to meet a local TV personality. She telephoned to ask if the invitation applied to all children and was assured that it did; however, when Spencer added, ‘We are Negroes,’ the Coney Island representative admitted the invitation did not extend to Negro children.” 

Spencer was dismissed from the entrance by an armed guard on the Fourth of July, 1952. Spencer filed suit and subsequently won the case, which desegregated Coney Island.

For decades, Marian and her husband, Donald, now deceased, were leaders of the efforts to desegregate Cincinnati schools, workplaces and many important community venues.  She has also fought to protect all citizens’ fundamental right to vote for the candidate of their choice. She became Cincinnati’s first African American woman elected to City Council and served as Vice Mayor. 

There have been many awards and honors bestowed on Mrs. Spencer for her tireless work to make Cincinnati a city of opportunity for all. In 2010, she was inducted into the Ohio Civil Rights Hall of Fame. At the OCRHF induction they lauded her community efforts and her engaging personal style described as “always exceedingly polite, Mrs. Spencer personifies the characteristics of courage, cooperation and perseverance.” 

Also in 2010, she was recognized for her work to desegregate public schools. The Cincinnati Board of Education recognized Marian and her husband's legacy by renaming the Frederick Douglass elementary school in Walnut Hills, the Donald A. and Marian Spencer Education Center.

As we celebrate Women’s History Month, many of you will have the pleasure of hearing Mrs. Spencer at the sold out 1000 Women Strong event on March 1. But even if you can’t attend, let her story of a woman and mother who chose to make a difference inspire you to get involved this month to make our community the best it can be for all.

Marian Spencer was the first speaker in our 'A Conversation With...' Series.

The Women's Fund of The Greater Cincinnati Foundation leads our community in ensuring the economic self-sufficiency of women in our region. Learn more at

February 2012