Lydia Flood Jackson was born in Brooklyn, California (now part of Oakland) on June 6, 1862. Her mother was Elizabeth Thorn Scott Flood, who was born in New York and educated in Massachusetts. She moved to California during the Gold Rush and established the state’s first school for black children in Sacramento in 1854. She later married Lydia’s father, Isaac Flood, who was born a slave in South Carolina and bought his freedom. He moved to California and worked as a laborer and tradesman, making a fortune on real estate. He also fought for civil rights and helped create the Shiloh African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1858.
Lydia Flood Jackson grew up in a prominent and influential family that valued education and equality. She attended the private school that her mother ran from their home for black and non-white children. In 1872, when she was ten years old, she became the first black student to attend John Swett School, an integrated public school in Oakland. Her father had challenged the segregation laws in California, citing the 14th and 15th amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Lydia continued her schooling at night classes at Oakland High School.
Lydia Flood Jackson married William Jackson and became a successful entrepreneur and inventor. She founded Flood Toilet Creams, a cosmetic business that produced and sold toiletries, creams, and perfumes on the West Coast. She also traveled to Mexico, the West Indies, and South America on speaking engagements, where she advocated for democracy and challenged white male supremacy. She urged women to question the stereotypical roles that limited their options.
Lydia Flood Jackson was also an active clubwoman and a leader in the suffrage movement. She was a member of the Native Daughter’s Club and the Fannie Jackson Coppin Club for forty-two years. She was also the first legislative chair and first citizenship chair of the California Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs. She introduced the use of secret ballots in the club’s elections and called on the organization to demand women’s suffrage. In 1918, she addressed the state convention of the federation and said: “Suffrage stands out as one of the component factors of Democracy.”
Lydia Flood Jackson lived to be 101 years old. She was honored on her 100th birthday by the City of Oakland as their “oldest living native and daughter of the first Negro school teacher in California.” She died on July 8, 1963, and her services were held at the First A.M.E. Church in Oakland, which her parents had helped found. Lydia Flood Jackson was a remarkable woman who made history with her courage, intelligence, and dedication to social justice. She deserves to be celebrated as a pioneer of women’s rights and education.