Louise Elizabeth Peartree, 109, who encouraged Black people to vote when the Pennsylvania legislature passed a controversial voter ID law, died Wednesday, May 26, at her Philadelphia home.
In 2012, after the law passed, Mrs. Peartree, then 101, told BET.com she wouldn’t let it stop her from voting.
“My daughter took me to get a new ID, and I’m voting,” she said.
Mrs. Peartree spent her youth in Belhaven, N.C., where white elections officials intimidated Black people to keep them from voting.
“They didn’t want us to vote in those days,” she said. “But that didn’t mean nothing to me. I’ve been voting since I was 21. They didn’t like it. But I voted anyway.”
She cast her first ballot in 1932 for Franklin D. Roosevelt and cast her last in 2020, by mail, to elect Joe Biden as president.
Louise Elizabeth Boyd Peartree was born Sept. 15, 1911, in Asbury Park, N.J., to parents for whom there are no records. Her mother died when she was 6, and her father abandoned her on the front steps of a storefront.
She was taken to a police precinct and later to New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital. After living there for several months, she was taken to what was then Albert Einstein Hospital in Philadelphia.
At Einstein, she told officials she remembered her mother mentioning a town in North Carolina, called Bellport, where she had relatives. The town was later known as Belhaven.
The hospital eventually united her with her grandfather, who raised her.
“My granddaddy had been a slave and, once he was freed, he didn’t take any mess from anyone, Black or white. He farmed his own land, drank, and cursed,” she told BET. “He taught me not to let people stop me from what I was supposed to do.”
Mrs. Peartree left school in the seventh grade and became a cook and cleaning woman. As a young woman, she met and married Elbert Peartree, with whom she had three daughters.
Her domestic skills and manners were so impeccable she eventually worked in New York City as the head cook for the wealthy family of a Chemical Bank executive.
Mrs. Peartree moved to the Philadelphia area in 2009, to live with one of her daughters in Montgomery County.
A few years later, she spoke out about the state’s voter ID law.
During court hearings challenging Pennsylvania’s law, civil rights groups and political scientists testified it would negatively affect about one million voters who did not have valid, state-issued identification.
The law was temporarily halted when a Commonwealth Court judge ruled that elections officials didn’t have to enforce it for the 2012 general election because there hadn’t been enough time to issue state IDs to all voters.
Later, in 2014, Commonwealth Court Judge Bernard L. McGinley struck down the law, saying it hindered voting rights.
Mrs. Peartree never talked about being abandoned, her granddaughter Elizabeth Gary said, adding that it must have had an impact on her.
“I think that was why she was so adamant about family and the importance of families being together,” Gary said.
In her younger years, Mrs. Peartree always attended her grandchildren’s and great-grandchildren’s basketball games and track meets.
Her grandmother was “a pillar for the family,” Gary said. “She was the glue that held us together.”
In 2018, the family held a 107th birthday party for her.
“I never had alcohol. No whiskey or wine in my life. I never drank or smoked or chewed tobacco,” the Philadelphia Tribune quoted her as saying at the time. “But I can eat almost anything.”
Early this year, she moved to Mount Airy to live with another daughter.
Gary described her grandmother as a spiritual woman.
“She always said, ‘You get your blessings from what you do for others,’” Gary said.
At 102, she joined Salem Baptist Church of Abington. She liked to play dominoes and, Spades. She also enjoyed dancing.
In addition to her granddaughter, Mrs. Peartree is survived by daughters Lottie Jefferson and Earleen Gauthney; 11 grandchildren; 17 great-grandchildren; 30 great-great-grandchildren, and 10 great-great-great-grandchildren. Her husband and a daughter, Bettie, died earlier.
A funeral was held June 4.