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Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years

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Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years is a 1993 New York Times bestselling book of oral history written by Sarah "Sadie" L. Delany and A. Elizabeth "Bessie" Delany with Amy Hill Hearth. The sisters were the daughters of a former slave who became the first African-American elected Bishop in the Episcopal Church in the United States.[1] The sisters were civil rights pioneers, but their stories were largely unknown until Amy Hill Hearth, a reporter for The New York Times, interviewed them for a feature story in 1991, then expanded her story into book form.[2]

Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years
Having Our Say The Delany Sisters First 100 Years (book cover).jpg
Author A. Elizabeth Delany
Sarah L. Delany
Amy Hill Hearth
Language English
Subject Biography/Oral History
Publisher Kodansha America
Publication date
September 19, 1993
Media type Book/Audio
Pages 210
ISBN 978-1-56836-010-2
OCLC 28221947
Followed by The Delany Sisters Book of Everyday Wisdom

Published by Kodansha America in New York in September 1993, the book was on the New York Times bestseller lists for 105 weeks.[3] In all editions combined, the book has sold more than five million copies, according to Hearth. The book went on to inspire a Broadway play in 1995 and a CBS television film in 1999.

The book has been translated into six languages. In 1995, the book was recognized as one of the "Best Books of 1994" by the American Library Association. The book was also presented with the Christopher Award for Literature and an American Booksellers Book of the Year (ABBY) Honor Award.


New York Times articleEdit

On September 22, 1991, an article written by Hearth ("Two 'Maiden Ladies' With Century-Old Stories to Tell"[4]), was published in The New York Times, introducing the then-unknown Delany sisters to a large audience. Among those who read Hearth's story was a New York book publisher who asked her to write a full-length book on the sisters. Hearth and the sisters agreed to collaborate, working closely for two years to create the book.[5]

Book synopsisEdit

Having Our Say presents an historically accurate, nonfiction account of the trials and tribulations the Delany sisters faced during their century of life. The book offers positive images and details of African-American (they preferred "colored") life in the 1890s.

The book chronicles the story of their well-lived lives with wit and wisdom. It begins with an idyllic childhood in North Carolina. The sisters had a unique and privileged upbringing. They were raised on the campus of St. Augustine's School (now St. Augustine's University) in Raleigh, North Carolina. Their father, the Rev. Henry B. Delany, was the Vice-Principal of the school. He was born into slavery, but eventually became the first African-American Episcopal Bishop elected in the United States. Their mother, Nanny Logan, was a teacher and administrator. Her parents were a free African American woman and a white Virginia farmer.[6]

The legislation of Jim Crow laws eventually prompted the Delany sisters move to Harlem. Sadie arrived in New York in 1916, while Bessie relocated two years later.

The sisters were successful career women and civil rights pioneers in their own right. They survived encounters with racism and sexism in different ways, with the support of each other and their family. The sisters set their sights high, with both earning advanced college degrees at a time when this was very rare for women, especially women of color. Both were successful in their professions from the 1920s until retirement.

Sadie attended Pratt Institute, then transferred to Columbia University where she earned a bachelor's degree in education in 1920,[7] followed by a master's in education in 1925.[8] She was the first African-American permitted to teach Domestic Science at the high school level in the New York City public school system. She retired in 1960.[8][9]

Bessie was a 1923 graduate of Columbia University's School of Dental and Oral Surgery.[10] She was the second black woman licensed to practice dentistry in the state of New York. She retired in 1956.[9][11]

The Delany sisters lived together in Harlem, New York for many years, eventually moving to the Bronx while it was still rural, and finally to Mt. Vernon, New York, where they bought a house with a garden on a quiet street. Neither ever married, and the two lived together all of their lives.

The reason we've lived this long is because we never married. We never had husbands to worry us to death!

—Bessie Delany in Having Our Say


Follow-up booksEdit

After the publication of the book, the Delany sisters received numerous letters from people seeking advice, life direction, and encouragement. Raised with Southern charm, the sisters believed they should answer each and every letter. Etiquette gave way to practicality and the sisters, again with Hearth, wrote, The Delany Sisters' Book of Everyday Wisdom. Published in 1994, the book offered recipes, as well as photos of the sisters doing yoga.

After Bessie's death in 1995, Sadie and Hearth wrote a third book called On My Own At 107: Reflections on Life Without Bessie. The book follows Sadie through the first year after Bessie's death. It includes watercolor illustrations, by Brian M. Kotzky, of Bessie's favorite flowers from her garden. The book was a national bestseller.

In 2003, Hearth wrote The Delany Sisters Reach High, an illustrated children's biography of the Delany sisters, focusing on their childhood. Published by Abingdon Press, the book is illustrated by the award-winning artist, Tim Ladwig. It is part of the educational curriculum target for first through third grade reading classes.

Broadway playEdit

In 1995, Emily Mann, artistic director of the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, New Jersey, adapted Hearth's book for the stage. The play adaptation, Having Our Say, debuted on April 6, 1995, at the Booth Theatre on Broadway in New York City, and later toured the United States.

Delany novellaEdit

In 1995 the Delany Sisters' nephew, novelist and critic Samuel R. Delany, published a novella, "Atlantis: Model 1924" (in Atlantis: Three Tales), which includes characters based on the two sisters and lightly fictionalized family stories about them not included in Having Our Say.

CBS telefilmEdit

In 1999, Emily Mann, who had previously adapted the book to the Broadway stage, wrote a screenplay for CBS television. The executive producers included Camille O. Cosby, Jeffrey S. Grant, and Judith R. James. The telefilm starred Ruby Dee as Bessie Delany, Diahann Carroll as Sadie Delany, and Amy Madigan as Amy Hill Hearth. The film first aired on CBS on April 18, 1999, just three months after Sadie died. In 2000, the film was honored with the Peabody Award for Excellence in Television and the Christopher Award for Outstanding TV and Cable Programming.


  1. ^ Delany, Sarah L., A. Elizabeth Delany, and Amy Hill Hearth. Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years, New York: Kodansha America, 1993, p. 6
  2. ^ Having Our Say, p. xi
  3. ^ The New York Times (archives) 1993-1995.
  4. ^ Hill, Amy (1991-09-22). "Two 'Maiden Ladies' With Century-Old Stories to Tell". Mount Vernon (Ny): Retrieved 2017-09-28. 
  5. ^ Having Our Say, pp. xi-xiii
  6. ^ Having Our Say, p. 32
  7. ^ Having Our Say, pp. 106-7
  8. ^ a b Having Our Say, p. 120
  9. ^ a b Having Our Say, p. 176
  10. ^ Having Our Say, p. 114
  11. ^ Having Our Say, p. 124

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit