Born on March 2, 1879 Nannie Helen Burroughs, nationally prominent Black educator, Church leader, and suffrage supporter, founded the National Training School for Women and Girls in Washington, D. C. in 1909, as a national model school for the teaching of African American women. Today if you drive down the heart of Deanwood, a community located east of the Anacostia River, you will see an avenue named after Burroughts.
Burroughts graduated from high school with honors in Washington, D. C. in 1896 and in 1900 moved to Louisville, KY to work for the Foreign Mission Board of the National Baptist Convention. After giving a powerful speech at the convention, the Woman’s Convention, Auxiliary to the National Baptist Convention was organized.
The Woman’s Convention primarily worked to raise money for the missions, which provided food, clothing, housing, and educational opportunities for poor people in the United States and around the world. As the Corresponding Secretary and President of the Woman’s Convention for over sixty years, she helped publicize their cause on the national level, through speeches and published work. In 1915 she wrote a piece for Crisis, the official magazine of the NAACP, demanding the ballot as a protection for African American women and the route to racial advancement.
Burroughs continued to fight for women and formed women’s industrial clubs throughout the South teaching night classes in typing, stenography, bookkeeping, millinery, and home economics to Black women.
Believing that education, job training, and voting rights were the tools for Black women’s empowerment, Burroughs wrote an article Other curriculum she taught emphasized on vocational training, offering classes in domestic science, missionary work, social work, home nursing, clerical work, printing, dressmaking, beauty culture, shoe repair, and agriculture. There were also classes in grammar, English literature, Latin, drama, public speaking, music, and physical education. She required all of her students to take a course in Black history. She also maintained a person mantra, the 3 R’s: “Reading,” “’Riting,” and “’Rithmetic and firmly believed in the 3 B’s: “the Bible,” “the Bath,” and the “Broom.”
Through her powerful oratory she became secretary of the National Baptist Woman’s Convention and, building on her teaching experience and grassroots network among Baptist women, she founded the National Training School for Women and Girls. Under the motto, “We Specialize in the Wholly Impossible,” her school blended industrial training and the liberal arts with a Christian education. She maintained her own publishing house, trained women missionaries, and educated African American women to be self-sufficient wage earners. She was a power player between both Black and white women. She died in Washington in 1961; her school continues today.
In 1975, District Mayor Walter E. Washington proclaimed May 10 to be Nannie Helen Burroughts Day in the District of Columbia–a fitting tribute to a remarkable woman who enriched the lives of all she served.