This Educator Fought For Black Women's Rights

Black Officers of the Women's League
Shonda Buchanan
September 17, 2020

She walked confidently into the room, resumé in one hand and a list of questions for her interviewers in the other. Washington, DC’s elite educators stared back – but the contempt in their eyes stopped her dead in her tracks. 

What had she done to elicit such hostility before she even opened her mouth?

All her life, Nannie Burroughs wanted to teach poor Black children – especially dark girls like herself – who struggled to learn from mangled books in dingy, overcrowded, noisy one-room classrooms that were freezing in the winter yet boiling in the summer. 

Didn’t she and the committee want the same thing?

A child of formerly enslaved parents who’d fought to get her an education, she was prepared and capable – but could she uplift the race when her own people wouldn’t hire her because of her dark skin?

She seethed with anger at the indignity of their colorism – and then made a move no one expected.

In 1909, she founded the first school for Black women, the National Training School for Women and Girls, highlighting racial pride, respectability, work ethic, and racial uplift ideology!

Later renamed the Nannie Helen Burroughs School, Nannie taught while also becoming a leading organizer for women’s voting rights.

When women are empowered to be self-sufficient through equal education and voting rights, we can build stronger communities!

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