The Library of Congress >> Virtual Programs and Services
Library of Congress LIVE!
Home About Zora! Leonardo Celtic Roots Spaelimenninir Hidden Washington Additional Programs

Image from Hidden WashingtonHIDDEN WASHINGTON: A Journey Through the Alley Communities of the Nation's Capital

Performed: February 2001

Hidden Washington brings to life the alley communities of Washington, DC, where people lived, worked, played and worshiped. This interesting and little known period in the history of our nation's capital will be presented through song, dance, and children's games, and also through the historic collections of the Library of Congress including manuscripts, photographs, period newspapers, and maps.

Our partner in this program, The Washington Revels, is dedicated, through performance, community involvement and education to reviving, nourishing and promoting celebrations of the cyclical renewal of life that have drawn and bound people together through the ages and across cultures.

» View Webcast (requires freely available RealMedia player)

» Get Learning Guide [PDF: 2.47MB] (requires freely available Acrobat Reader)

Jump to:  Nannie Helen Burroughs | Mary Church Terrell | Resrouces for Teachers


Nannie Helen Burroughs

I was born on May 2 1879 in Orange, Virginia. When I was five my widowed mother bought me to Washington, D.C. in pursuit of a better education. At the M Street High School I excelled under the guidance of dedicated teachers like Mary Church Terrell, graduating with honors in 1896.

At the time, African American women were basically limited to two employment options: domestic service or teaching. My mother, like the majority of African American women in cities, worked as a domestic servant. The work domestic servants performed maintaining homes was considered unskilled labor; and therefore, paid low wages. As a result, many African American domestic servants and their families lived in poverty in places like Shepherd Alley.

Image - Portrait of Nannie Helen BurroughsI wanted to become a domestic science teacher so that I could offer these women professional training that might help them earn a higher salary and afford better living conditions. Despite my qualifications, I was denied a teaching job because of the color of my skin. The pain of that disappointment inspired me to eventually establish a school that would give all sorts of girls a fair chance.

In the meantime, I did find a job in Philadelphia as an assistant editor for a Baptist newspaper. In 1900 I moved to Louisville, Kentucky to work as a secretary for the Foreign Mission Board of the National Baptist Convention, then the largest organization of African American clergymen. Later that year at the annual meeting of the National Baptist Convention in Richmond, I argued for the right of women to participate equally in the missionary activities of the denomination in a speech entitled, "How the Sisters are Hindered from Helping." As a result of my speech, the Woman's Convention, Auxiliary to the National Baptist Convention was organized.

Image - Burroughs at the Baptist ConventionThe 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, I publicized their cause nationwide in letters, articles, and speeches.

After many years of persistent effort, I was able to convince the National Baptist Convention and Woman's Convention to endorse the establishment of my school. For the site, I chose a farm house on six acres of land in the Lincoln Heights section of Washington. On October 19, 1909 I opened the doors of the National Training School for Women and Girls.

Image - National Training School for Women and GirlsMy curriculum emphasized 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. I also required all of my student to take a course in Black history. At the core of the curriculum was the study of the Bible. Nannie called her School the School of the "Three Bs– the Bible, The Bath, and The Broom."

In 1975, Mayor Walter E. Washington proclaimed May 10 to be Nannie Helen Burroughs Day in the District of Columbia–a fitting tribute to a remarkable woman who enriched the lives of all she served.

Back to Menu

Mary Church Terrell

Image - Portrait of Mary Church TerrellI was born on September 26,1863 in Memphis, Tennessee. My father, a self-educated former slave, became a millionaire investing in real estate. When I was six years old my parents sent me to the Antioch College Model School in Yellow Springs, Ohio for my elementary and secondary education.

I then enrolled in nearby Oberlin College, where I received a Bachelor's degree in 1884. In 1887 I moved to Washington, D.C. to teach at the M Street High School. After receiving a Master's degree from Oberlin in 1888, I toured Europe to study languages.

Image - Portrait (seated) of Mary Church TerrellI returned from abroad in 1891 to marry Robert Terrell, my supervisor at the M Street High School. Robert later became the first Black Judge of the District of Columbia Municipal Court.

In the late nineteenth century thousands of African Americans in the rural South, many poor and uneducated, began to move to cities across the country seeking opportunities. In response to this mass migration educated middle-class African American women in cities organized service-oriented clubs dedicated to racial advancement.

Image - Kindergarten Class established by Mary Chruch TerrellIn 1892 I founded the Colored Woman's League of Washington, D.C., one of the first black women's clubs. Comprised primarily of teachers, the Colored Woman's League focused on the educational development of disadvantaged African American women and children. The League established an evening classes for adults, a program to train kindergarten teachers, and a free kindergarten and day nursery for the children of working mothers.

The League started a training program and a kindergarten before these were incorporated in the Washington public school system.

Image - Kindergarten Class established by Mary Church TerrellThe success of the League's educational initiatives led to my appointment to the District of Columbia Board of Education in 1895. I was the first Black woman in the United States to serve in this type of position.

In 1896 I became the founder and first president of the National Association of Colored Women, a national organization of black women's clubs. Working through this and other organizations I tried to promote the welfare of my race and the empowerment of Black women.


Back to Menu

Resources for Teachers:

American Anthropologist. Vol.1 "Games of Washington Children." July 1888. Pages 243-284.

Bicknell, Grace Vawter. The Inhabited Alleys of Washington, D.C. Committee on Housing, Woman's Welfare Department, 1912

Borchert, James. Alley Life in Washington: Family, Community, Religion, and Folklife in the City, 1850-1970. Chicago, IL and London, England: University of Illinois Press, 1980

Easter, Opal V. Nannie Helen Burroughs. Garland Publishing, Inc., New York & London, 1995

Frankel, Godfrey. In the Alleys, Kids in the Shadow of The Capital. Washington, D.C. and London, England: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1995

Green, Constance McLaughlin. The Secret City; A History of Race Relations in the Nation's Capitol. Princeton, N.J., Princeton University Press, 1967. xv, 389 p. illus., ports. 23 cm.

Ibid. Washington. Princeton, N.J., Princeton University Press, 1962-63. 2 v. illus. 25 cm.

House of Representatives, Sixty-Third Congress, Second Session on H.R. 13219. Hearing Before the Committee on the District of Columbia. Certain Alleys in the District of Columbia. Government Printing Office, 1914

Johnston, Allan. Surviving Freedom, The Black Community of Washington, D.C. 1860-1880. New York and London: Garland Publishing, Inc, 1993

Jones, Dr. Thomas Jesse. Directory of the Inhabited Alleys of Washington D.C. Printed Through the Generosity of Mrs. Medill McCormick, Mrs. William Belden Noble and Mrs. John Van Schaick, Jr., 1912

The Junior League of The City of Washington. The City of Washington. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1997

Library of Congress. The Learning Page <>.

Library of Congress. Discovering Hidden Washington Home Page <>.

Sluby, Paul E. Jr. Rosemont Cemetery. Washington, D.C.: Columbian Harmony Society, 1993

Subcommittee of the Committee on the District of Columbia, United States Senate, Sixty-Third Congress, Second Session on Senate Bills 1624, 2376, 2397, 2580, 4529, and 4672. Inhabited Alleys in the District of Columbia and Housing of Unskilled Workingmen. Government Print Office, 1914.

Back to Menu


Home About Zora! Leonardo Celtic Roots Spaelimenninir Hidden Washington Additional Programs
  The Library of Congress >> Virtual Programs and Services
  September 18, 2006
Contact Us