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American Women: Resources from the Manuscript Collections

African American Schools

John Angel James Wilcox, engraver. Myrtilla Miner, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing front. Between 1860 and 1940. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

One aspect of women's education that is especially well documented is the founding of schools for African American women. Abolitionist Myrtilla Miner (1815-1864) overcame local opposition to establish and maintain the Miner School for Free Colored Girls in antebellum Washington, D.C., in 1851. Her papers (600 items; 1825-1950; bulk 1851-58) contain student essays and correspondence, including exchanges with prominent abolitionists and with novelists Emma Dorothy Eliza Nevitte Southworth and Harriet Beecher Stowe, relating to the school and to Miner's interests in feminism, spiritualism, hydrotherapy, and alternative medical treatments. A digital version of the Myrtilla Miner Papers is also available via the subscription database Gale Primary Sources: Nineteenth Century Collections Online.

Sharing Miner's initiative was Lucy Salisbury Doolittle (1832-1908), who in the 1860s obtained funds from the New York National Freedman's Relief Association and opened an industrial school for black women in the Georgetown neighborhood of the District of Columbia. All that remains of Doolittle's papers (10 items; 1864-67) are a few letters and a notebook recording class attendance and students' completion of sewing assignments.

More than fifty years after Miner's and Doolittle's pioneering efforts, African American educator and religious leader Nannie Helen Burroughs (1879-1961) founded a trade school for young black women in Washington, D.C. Records relating to the National Training School for Women and Girls (later the National Trade and Professional School for Women and Girls), established in 1909, may be found in the Burroughs collection (110,000 items; 1900-1963; bulk 1928-60), which also contains material concerning her activities with the National Baptist Convention, National League of Republican Colored Women, and National Association of Wage Earners.

A contemporary of Burroughs, Charl Ormond Williams (1885-1969), was active in the field of education and educational reform through her association with the National Education Association and her participation in the 1944 White House Conference on Rural Education. Her papers (3,200 items; 1924-59; bulk 1935-45), including correspondence with Mary Ritter Beard, Mary McLeod Bethune, Clare Boothe Luce, and Margaret Chase Smith, relate to those issues and to school segregation, the Democratic Party, and the 1944 White House Conference on How Women May Share in Post-War Policy Making.

Student basketball players of the National Training School for Women and Girls, Washington, D.C., seated on steps for team(?) photo. Between 1900 and 1920. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Industrial education and occupational training for black women and girls are topics that also appear in the papers of several educators affiliated with Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. The voluminous papers of Tuskegee's founder Booker T. Washington (375,550 items; 1853-1946; bulk 1900-1915) contain records of the school's Women's Department and files relating to women's industries, industries for girls, and hospital and nurses' training. As one of the premier black leaders of his generation, Washington corresponded with many prominent women activists, reformers, and educators, including Jane Addams, Alice Stone Blackwell, Nannie Helen Burroughs, Alice Moore Dunbar, Helen Keller, Ida M. Tarbell, and Mary Church Terrell.

Washington's successor as president of Tuskegee was Robert Russa Moton, whose papers are included with those of his wife, educator Jennie Dee Booth Moton (1880-1942), and their daughter, government official Charlotte Moton Hubbard (1911-1994). The Moton Family Papers (8,700 items; 1850-1991; bulk 1930-40) document the family's efforts to promote educational and economic opportunities for African Americans and to improve race relations. Under Robert Moton's leadership, Tuskegee developed from a vocational and agricultural high school into a fully accredited college. Jennie Moton served briefly as director of the school's Department of Women's Industries and later was a field agent for the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA) and president of the National Association of Colored Women (NACW). Her AAA files include correspondence, statistical reports, and narrative accounts of her activities among black Americans in the rural South, and her NACW files include correspondence with Jessie Daniel Ames, Bertha LaBranche Johnson, and Charlotte Payne. When Charlotte Moton Hubbard was appointed deputy assistant secretary of state for public affairs in 1964, she became the highest-ranking black woman in President Lyndon Johnson's administration, a testament to her many years of work in education, community relations, and government service.

Other African American educators whose papers are of interest to women's historians include third Tuskegee president Frederick D. Patterson (15,000 items; 1861-1988; bulk 1965-88) and civil rights leader and pioneer researcher in African American history Lorenzo Johnston Greene (44,100 items; 1680-1988; bulk 1933-72).

Manuscripts Resources Referenced

The following collection titles link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to additional online content, including finding aids for the collections, are included when available.

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