Nannie Helen Burroughs, an educator, recognized the importance of teaching African-American history early on. Burroughs, an orator, religious leader, civil rights activist, and businesswoman, also wore many hats in education and leadership.
Burroughs believed that education was essential for young black girls to succeed in society, so she established the National Training School for Women and Girls in Washington, D.C. At a time when most schools in the South were segregated, the school provided academic, religious, and vocational classes for young black girls and women.
Burroughs was born in Orange, Virginia on May 2, 1878, to John and Jennie Burroughs. Because her father was a free person of color and her mother was born into slavery in Virginia, her parents belonged to a small, privileged class of free blacks and ex-slaves.
Burroughs was one of the founders of the National Association of Colored Women (NACW) in 1896, one of a number of new black women’s philanthropic organizations. She began working as an associate editor at the Christian Banner in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1897.
Burroughs established the National Training School for Women and Girls in Washington, D.C., which provided high school and junior college classes. Burroughs, which emphasized job preparation, offered courses in domestic science and secretarial skills, as well as unusual occupations like shoe repair and gardening. Through her program of the three B’s: the Bible, the bath, and the broom, she created a self-help creed.
Burroughs was appointed as a committee chairwoman for the Herbert Hoover administration’s 1931 White House Conference on Home Building and Home Ownership in 1928. Burroughs died of natural causes on May 20, 1961, in Washington, D.C. She was the principal of her school until her death. The school was renamed the Nannie Burroughs School three years after her death.