Elise Ford Allen Biography


ELISE FORD ALLEN , written by Linda Allen Hollis for Westfordlegacy.com

Elise Ford Allen was born in Peoria, Illinois on July 29, 1921 and died on November 3, 2021. She was the daughter of Florence Harrison and Dr. Cecil Bruce Ford and the granddaughter of Major George Ford and the second great granddaughter of West Ford, the African American son of George Washington. Her grandfather, Major George Ford, was an original member of the legendary 10th Cavalry known as the Buffalo Soldiers and her father, Dr. Cecil Bruce Ford, was the first black dentist in Peoria. Her mother was a well-known seamstress in the city.  

Elise married James O. Allen, an inventor, in 1939, and the couple had eleven children. The family started the successful Allen Printing Company and in 1960 it was renamed the Traveler Printing and Publishing Company. With the onset of The Traveler Weekly Newspaper in 1966, Elise became the first African American woman in Illinois to found, edit, and publish a newspaper. She felt that the city of Peoria needed a newspaper that focused on African American issues, concerns, and accomplishments and it gave her a vehicle to voice her thoughts and concerns. The goal of her editorials was geared toward provoking a positive dialogue and a forum for change. The newspaper continues to focus on the true principles of democracy and to keep it a living reality to all Americans, without regard to race, color or creed. 

One of Elise’s fondest memories was running for Mayor of Peoria in 1973. She became the river city’s first woman and African American candidate. She ran with the intention of bringing to light the plights of the disadvantaged and poor in Peoria who had no voice. Although she did not win, she placed fifth among the eight white male candidates who ran. Another memorable moment in her life of community service came when she helped a Peoria woman who was sentenced to prison for killing her husband in self-defense. Elise reviewed the case with the public defender, interviewed witnesses, and began writing editorials in The Traveler about the woman’s plight of not receiving a fair trial. The then Governor of Illinois, Dan Walker, was privy to her editorials and later paroled the condemned woman. The power of Elise Ford Allen’s insightful writing would lead to many more commendations from all over the state of Illinois.

Elise Ford Allen has received numerous awards/memberships for her selfless devotion to the cause of uplifting the quality of life for minorities and the poor. Some notable ones are: First African-American president of the PTA at McKinley Elementary, Roosevelt Junior High School and Manual High School; First black Board of Managers member, YWCA (1970-1973); Board member, Metropolitan Council of Churches of Peoria (1970-1971); First black board member, Peoria Girl Scouts (1968-1973); Organized the first 4-H Club for black girls (1973); Citizen of the Year, Magnificent Gentlemen, Inc. (1973); Certificate of Achievement, Peoria Commission on Human Rights (1974); Outstanding Business Women Award, National Association of University Women (1974); Parent Advisory Council for Title I ESEA, Peoria Public Schools (1975); Board Member, Fair Employment and Housing Commission (1978-1981); Outstanding Community Service Award, Midwest Minority Contractors and Suppliers Association (1979); Leadership Award, Peoria Citizens Community for Economic Opportunity, Inc. (1980); COMMENDATION “for Community Service as a Member of the Fair Employment and Housing Commission,” CITY OF PEORIA, Richard E. Carver, Mayor (1983); Outstanding Community Service in the field of Journalism, Peoria Branch NAACP (1985); Proclamation for the Traveler Weekly, Mayor James Maloof (1987); Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Service Leadership Award (1987); Omega Citizen of the Year, Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. (1987); Appreciation Award “in recognition of selfless devotion to the cause and uplifting the quality of life for the residents of the Peoria Housing Authority,” Peoria Housing Authority (1988); Service Award, Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority (1989); Humanitarian Award “for Outstanding Achievement in African American Journalism” African Community (1990); Honor of Excellence for Community Service Award, Grace Baptist Church (1990); Communications Award, YWCA (1990); African American Hall of Fame Museum, Inc. Service Award “for dedication of many years of Service to people of all colors and walks of life in making Peoria a better place for all generations.” (1991); Certificate of Recognition Award, Peoria County Cooperative Extension Services (1991); Salute to Elise Allen “for the commitment to African American children,” The Adoption Information Center of Illinois (1993); Media Award “for continuing efforts in making the community aware of waiting children adoption issues,” One Church One Child of Directors (1995); Salute to Elise F. Allen “for continuing the fight against injustice in the African American community often without notice or encouragement…you are a vital force in our community,” Peoria African American Police League (1996); Humanitarian Service, American Red Cross, Central Illinois Chapter (1996); Certificate of Appreciation Crime Stoppers, Inc. (1996); State of Illinois Certificate of Appreciation for 36th Anniversary of the Traveler Weekly in recognition “of Outstanding Dedication and Commitment to African American Media” Office of the Governor (2002); The President’s Volunteer Service Award (2008), Biography Listed in the African American National Biography (2008); Pillar of Strength Award, New World Marketing (2010); Appreciation Recognition, United Usher Board of Peoria (2012); Appreciation Recognition, Hope Renewed (2012). The Elise F. Allen Award established for an “Outstanding Student Achiever” at Roosevelt Magnet School (1985–Present). She has also served on the Peoria Journal Star Advisory Board.

Her goal to reduce antagonism between the races and to lessen social conflict has been one of her major accomplishments. She believes the fight for equality is a complex issue and discrimination is one of its major culprits. In a true circular fashion, poverty left unchecked keeps the poor segregated out of the mainstream of society and easily marked for discrimination. In her own words she stresses her philosophy,” We not only want to take part in solving our own problems, but also in making the true principles of democracy a living reality to all American’s without regard to race color or creed; the dignity of the individual, and their civil rights must be defended always. The real test today is the ability and desire of all of us to meet Americans as Americans and all peoples as equals.”

Elise Ford Allen’s belief then and today is that inequality can be fought through education. With knowledge comes understanding and the opportunity for greatness and with it the ability to affect change in the political processes that govern this country.

*Additional pertinent information:

Elise Ford Allen’s life’s work is presented in the African American National Biographyreleased in February 2008. The national biography is the largest African American biographical dictionary ever published.  

Suggested Further Reading:

Allen-Bryant, Linda, I Cannot Tell a Lie: The True Story of George Washington’s African American Descendents" iUniverse (2004)