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Burroughs, Nannie Helen - Timeline Biography

Time Period

05-02-1879 - 05-20-1961


Nannie Helen Burroughs was an educator, missionary leader, writer and pioneer for the rights of African Americans, especially Black women. Known for her oratorical and literary skills, Burroughs also possessed superior organizational and fundraising skills, founding The National Trade and Professional School for Women and Girls in Washington, D.C., and several other organizations. Up until her death, she led the Woman's Convention of the National Baptist Convention, the largest Black denomination in the country.

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Nannie Helen Burroughs was born in 1879 in Orange, Virginia. Her mother, a formerly enslaved woman, took Nannie to Washington, D.C. in 1883 to find a better life.

Nannie was raised in poverty, but she graduated from the famous M Street High School, a prestigious educational facility run by graduates of Oberlin College. Mary Church Terrell, founder of the National Association of Colored Women and the first Black woman to serve on the Washington Board of Education, was one of Nannie's teachers, as was Mary Jane Patterson, the first Black woman to ever graduate college, and Anna Julia Cooper, noted educator, activist and author of A Voice from the South.

Nannie graduated M Street with honors in 1896, founding the Harriet Beecher Stowe Literary Society during her tenure as a student. However, though more than qualified to teach, she would be denied a position in the Washington school system, later citing colorism as the likely reason. Most of the highly favored and sought-after teachers of the period were several shades lighter than caramel-colored Nannie, and the Black aristocracy in Washington was made up largely of lighter-skinned Black people with strong connections.

Never one to let prejudice deter her, Nannie forged her own path, working as a janitor before moving to Philadelphia and becoming bookkeeper and stenographer for the Foreign Mission Board of the National Baptist Convention. There, she delivered her famous speech on Christian ministry and womanhood, "How the Sisters are Hindered from Helping," launching the Women’s Convention, the women's missionary society of the National Baptist Convention.

Burroughs went on to found the Women's Industrial Club of Louisville, open the National Trade and Professional School for Women and Girls in Washington, D.C. and organize the National Association of Wage Earners and the International Council of Women of the Darker Races. Burroughs also served as president of the Women’s Convention at the National Baptist Convention and on the executive committee of the Baptist World Alliance. She also would spend her entire life writing: as a recurring columnist for The Courier and editor of The Worker magazine. Burroughs was a frequent keynote speaker and the recipient of an honorary master’s degree from Eckstein-Norton University in Kentucky. She worked tirelessly until her death in 1961 and was often sought out by such leaders as Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. DuBois, and a young Martin Luther King, Jr.

Religious Groups

Baptist Family: Other ARDA Links
Baptist Family: Religious Family Tree


Missionary Movement
Woman's Missionary Movement

Related Dictionary Terms

Baptist, Church, Denomination, God/Goddess, Prayer, Seminary


Nannie Helen Burroughs
Nannie Helen Burroughs
Nannie Helen Burroughs (Library of Congress)

Nannie Helen Burroughs Suffrage
Nannie Helen Burroughs Suffrage
African-American women posed, standing, full length, with Nannie Burroughs holding banner reading, "Banner State Woman's National Baptist Convention." Courtesy Library of Congress,

Additional Resources

"How the Sisters are Hindered from Helping" - Burroughs' Speech at the 1900 National Baptist Convention

Book/Journal Source(s)

Burroughs, Nannie Helen, 2019. A Documentary Portrait of an Early Civil Rights Pioneer, 1900-1959 Keisha M. Graves, ed. University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, Indiana.
McCluskey, Audrey Thomas, 2014. A Forgotten Sisterhood: Pioneering Black Women Educators in the Jim Crow South. Rowman and Littlefield, London.

Web Page Contributor

Jasmine Holmes
Affliated with: Author and educator

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