Talbert earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Oberlin College in 1886, the only African American woman in her class. In 1887, she became an assistant principal at a high school in Little Rock, Arkansas, the highest position held by an African American woman in the state. Talbert moved to Buffalo, New York in 1891 and became an early advocate for women of all colors. Described by many as “the best known colored woman in the United States”, Talbert lectured against lynching, racism and for women’s suffrage.
She co-founded the first chapter of the NAACP in Buffalo in 1910 and served as the National Director of the NAACP Anti-Lynching Campaign in 1921. From 1916 to 1921, Talbert served as President on the National Association of Colored Women. She lectured in 11 European nations on the conditions of African Americans in the United States.
In 1922, Talbert became the first woman to receive the NAACP Spingarn Medal. Talbert died October 15, 1923. Four branches of the National Association of Colored Women are named in her honor, including the one in Detroit, Michigan. Talbert Hall at the University of Buffalo is also named in her honor.