Nannie Helen Burroughs

Lived:May 2, 1879—May 20, 1961 (aged 82)

Nannie Helen Burroughs was a suffragist, religious leader, educator, and social activist in the early 20th century.

Born May 2, 1879 in Orange, Virginia to a pair of former enslaved people, Burroughs moved to Washington, D.C. with her mother after her father died. Although she excelled in school, she was rejected for a position teaching public school. Some historians believe this was a result of colorist discrimination against Burroughs’ darker complexion. Burroughs, instead, worked as a bookkeeper and editorial secretary for the National Baptist Convention (NBC). Climbing the ranks of the NBC, Burroughs focused on gender equality within the church and helped found the Women’s Auxiliary of the NBC. In 1909, she led the charge to fund and establish the National Training School for Women and Girls, of which she was president until her death in 1961.

Burroughs fiercely advocated for the rights of people of color, particularly women. She helped found the National Association of Colored Women with Mary Church Terrell, was appointed by President Herbert Hoover to chair a special committee on housing for African Americans, and acted as a central figure in the network of African American suffragists in the D.C. area, including Coralie Franklin Cook and Anna Julia Cooper. Burroughs was also an early and ardent support of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement. Nannie Helen Burroughs died in 1961 and her school was renamed the Nannie Helen Burroughs School in her honor in 1964.