Born in Georgia, Mary A. Johnson and her husband, Sidney Johnson, moved to Hartford in 1916. They ran the first African American undertaker business in Hartford and, likely, in Connecticut.
Soon after her arrival, she joined the Colored Women’s Liberty Loan Committee in 1917, which showed African American women’s patriotic participation in war support efforts. By 1918 Johnson was the chairman of the Colored Republican Women of Connecticut and the vice president of the Connecticut State Federation of Colored Women.
She combined her political and social service, which is evident in her work of co-founding the Women’s League, Inc., of Hartford in 1918 and becoming its first president. The League opened their Community House in 1919 and aimed to uplift their community. The Community House offered childcare services, a wide variety of classes, and housing and skills training for women who had moved from the south, among other resources. The League and Community House became cornerstones. Women’s clubs in greater New England gathered at this center, which ran for over 75 years, and generations of children attended its daycare and programs.
In 1926 Johnson served as the state chairman of the National Guard Colored Republican Conference. The speakers at this political rally included Secretary of State Francis A. Pallotti, Congressman Fenn, State Senator Alice Pattison Merritt, Governor Trumbull, and Johnson. She gave the address that introduced the governor.
Johnson was devoted to civic service in Hartford for decades. As a member of the Mayor’s Committee on Unemployment in 1929, she established the Hartford Industrial Service and Exchange Bureau “to help the industrial situation among local Negro families.” Her focus for the program was to help people develop “the ability to create and execute one’s own ideas.”
In 1941 Johnson was appointed to the City Juvenile Commission, and The Hartford Courant reported that she “is believed to be the first Negro woman appointed to a standing commission in Hartford.” She ran for the State House of Representatives as the People’s (Wallace) Party nominee in 1948 and was defeated. Johnson’s leadership helped shape African American women’s political involvement in Connecticut.