Ida B. Wells was born in Mississippi in 1862, a few months before the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. She was the eldest of eight children, and when her parents died in the late 1870s, she supported and raised her younger siblings. She attended Rust College (later called Shaw University) and became a teacher in Memphis, Tennessee in 1888.
During her time in Memphis, Wells also co-owned and wrote for a black newspaper, "The Free Speech and Headlight," and began to agitate for civil rights for African-Americans, including winning a lawsuit on train desegregation (this decision was later overturned by the Tennessee Supreme Court). After an acquaintance was lynched in 1892, she began to write anti-lynching editorials and encourage Black southerners to move west to escape Southern racism. In 1895, after living abroad for a few years, Wells published a history of lynching, "A Red Record." She also started the United States' first civic organization for black women, the Women's Era Club, which was later renamed the Ida B. Wells Club in her honor.
In 1909, Wells-Barnett (she had married in 1895 and subsequently had four children) became a founding member of the "Committee of 40," which later grew into the NAACP. However, she was excluded from the organization due to her radical views by the mid 1910s. She then founded the Negro Fellowship League. She also became active in the suffrage movement, as well as Jane Addams' work against school segregation. She stayed active in the fight for civil rights for African-Americans and women until her death in 1931.