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Women’s History Nannie Helen Burroughs

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At the time of this publication, the nation will have voted for the 46th President of the United States. The year 2020 has challenged Americans in more ways than we could have ever imagined. I have interviewed young and old about their political views. However, one conversation in particular resonated with me and inspired this publication. I was having a conversation with a 12-year-old intelligent young lady who shared that she was not sure who she would vote for if she was eligible to vote and would most likely not exercise her freedom to cast her ballot. I immediately seized the opportunity to educate her about the importance of voting and reaffirmed that her voice matters through her vote.

In celebration of the centennial of the 19th Amendment, I was prepared to revisit publishing a tribute to historical suffragists. However, I came across Nannie Helen Burroughs and was enthralled by her trailblazing and monumental journey as an educator and activist. Nannie Helen Burroughs was born on May 2, 1879 in Orange, Virginia to John and Jennie Burroughs. Nannie’s parents were slaves and her father passed away when Nannie was a young child. Nannie and her mother relocated from Virginia to Washington, DC. Nannie attended schools in Washington, DC and graduated with honors from the M Street High School. Nannie was a “standout” in high school; however, when she applied for a teaching job in the DC area, she was not selected. It has been speculated that Nannie was a victim of discrimination by the elite black community because Nannie had darker skin than other African Americans at the school. Nannie did not perceive this level of discrimination as a setback and instead moved forward with establishing her own school. Nannie petitioned the National Baptist Convention for financial support and also gained support from African American mothers and children. The National Baptist Convention purchased six acres of land in northeast Washington, DC. Although Nannie’s school was gaining some support from the community, Nannie also had her share of setbacks. Nannie was committed to the education of African American women. It was important for Nannie to ensure that women learned to have economic freedom and to effectuate this through education and the right to vote. Nannie Helen Burroughs opened the National Training School for Women and Girls in 1909. The school educated African American women from around the world. Nannie did not receive any funding from white donors. The goal of the school was to develop students to become “the fiber of a sturdy moral, industrious and intellectual woman.” The curriculum was rigorous and focused on academic as well as vocational models. The areas of study included dressmaking, handicrafts, power machine operation, public speaking, music and physical education. Remember this was the early 1900s! Students attended the school from across the globe. Students were also required to be “practicing Christians” in order to attend the school. The course included a religious component and included Sunday school classes. It is important to note that the school did not restrict applicants based upon their race. The vast majority of the student population were from working class families. The school initially started off small with minimal classrooms and with a prominent black history scholar by the name of Dr. Carter G. Woodson as a powerful advocate. Nannie was able to complete the Trades Hall in 1928. The new hall replaced the old building and added more classrooms and administrative offices. In 1964 the school was renamed in Nannie’s honor as the Nannie Helen Burroughs School. The Trades Hall became a private elementary school before closing in 2006. The building currently is known to house the Progressive National Baptist Convention. Nannie Helen Burroughs also focused on her advocacy as a member Twitter.com.

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of the National Association for Colored Women, the National Association of Wage Earners, and Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. Nannie Facebook.com. was known to have delivered over 200 speeches on racial equality Nytimes.com. and education as well as advocacy for the passage of the 19th Amendment. Specifically, Nannie was vocal in sending the message that it was important for African American and white women to work in solidarity in securing the right to vote. Nannie was fully aware of the discrimination faced by African American women by society and felt it was her duty to advocate for not only herself but for the oppressed. In the years leading up to the passage of the 19th Amendment, African Findagrave.com. Americans were victims of lynching to white mob violence. Nannie knew that the passage of the 19th Amendment would be the impetus to provide proper protection for African Americans through the creation of law. Nannie Helen Burroughs reportedly died of natural causes on May 20, 1961. As the next President is sworn into office, may we be thankful for Nannie Helen Burroughs. An extraordinary woman who has shown us that through the power of education and advocacy, we can make a difference! As we say goodbye to 2020 and look forward to a fresh new start, I am reminded of a quote from Mehmet Murat Ildan: “In the New Year, never forget to thank your past years because they enabled you to reach today! Without the stairs of the past, you cannot arrive at the future!” Warm regards for a healthy and safe holiday season.

Rita King, LCSW is a mental health clinician providing psychotherapy services to adults and children. Rita has worked with individuals with mental illness in the community mental health setting, criminal justice system and private practice setting. Rita is a “De-escalation for Individuals with Special Needs” training facilitator and has trained approximately 1,200 law enforcement professionals to date. Rita is also a CIT trained mental health professional. Rita has a strong passion for women’s history and in her free time she continues to raise awareness of the importance of women’s history through lectures and community speaking engagements.

The County Woman Magazine www.TheCountyWoman.com

November/December 2020

Profile for The County Woman

Atlantic County Woman - November/December 2020  

The County Woman’s Newspaper is published bi-monthly in Atlantic, Monmouth and Ocean Counties in New Jersey and is available free of charge...

Atlantic County Woman - November/December 2020  

The County Woman’s Newspaper is published bi-monthly in Atlantic, Monmouth and Ocean Counties in New Jersey and is available free of charge...