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  --  1865-1925   Table of Contents     MADAM EMMA AZALIA HACKLEY
  --  1867-1922

Brown, Hallie Q.
Homespun heroines

- Illustration

Margaret Murray Washington
(Mrs. Booker T. Washington)
Hon. President of the N. A. C. W.

Mrs. Booker T. Washington was born in Macon, Mississippi. There were five children in the family, of which she was the third. Strange how guiding angels or powers of unseen forces manifest themselves in directing the affairs of many of our great men and women from the beginning, for when but a child she went to live with a Quaker family, whose careful teaching and thorough training influenced her life during those impressionable years, and of those friends she always spoke in warmest terms. Catching a glint of the possibilities of little Margaret Murray they sent her to Nashville, Tennessee to be educated. Entering Fisk University, she stayed and studied and worked for eleven years. As she became more experienced, there developed the determination to thoroughly fit herself that she might help challenge the cause of the Negro woman, in whom she had abiding faith. More and more she felt confident that if the Negro woman was given a chance like other women, she would gain and maintain in the world a place for herself.

The vision of the Negro women came to her as a student at Fisk. She never lost sight of it, and during her last years in the University she quite decided that her life would be consecrated to the work of setting before our people high standards and developing race pride, always with the assurance and guarantee that in the end the Negro would triumph. And thus the early years of her life were filled with intensive work and study, in the preparation

for greater service, with an ever passionate desire to help where she was most needed.

General Armstrong had recommended Booker T. Washington at the inquiry of a southern gentleman, Mr. George W. Campbell, for a teacher in the Black Belt of Alabama. Mr. Washington came to Tuskegee and pitched his tent on barren ground. With such scanty means he started the Institute that only a magician or believer in miracles would have attempted such an undertaking. Having been married twice to women of good training, high standing and with the keenest desire to help him in the struggle for his race, Mr. Washington found himself again in 1887 alone with three little children,--an attractive little girl, Portia, and two dear little boys, Booker T. junior and Ernest Davidson named for his mother. How discouraged he must have felt, with a great vision before him, the development of the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute,--with no money, few influential friends, and three small children the youngest being only two years of age when his mother died.

Mr. Washington visited Fisk University, at which time he spoke in his characteristic way, laying down his practical, solid and constructive program. To the graduates of Fisk it was a challenge. Who was convinced that Booker Washington was doing a work worth while? Who knew better than she the conditions in the south? Who was eager to render real service? Who was strong enough not to let difficulties stand in her way? Margaret Murray, of Macon, Mississippi, who had until this time planned to teach in the State of Texas. At Mr. Washington's invitation she came to Tuskegee in 1889 as Dean of the Woman's Department, doing classroom work, and anything else she was called upon to do. She was never afraid of working too hard or doing too much.

Being able to study Margaret Murray at close range, Booker Washington recognized her strength of character, her unusual ability to direct affairs, and loved her for her sterling worth. After three years' work at Tuskegee, she

entered more intimately into his life as his wife, mother of his children, and his strong and constant support in the development of the institution. How they planned and worked together! How they opened avenues of employment for well educated Negro men and women who had been thoroughly trained in schools, colleges and universities all over the country and who wanted employment! How they inspired hundreds of unlettered young men and women who came from all over the southland seeking a more abundant life, with nothing but their desire to do, and their firm belief in God to become useful citizens,--can only be interpreted in the wonderful way Tuskegee grew by leaps and bounds from year to year.

Mrs. Washington was a keen, energetic, magnetic, forceful executive. Underlying these characteristics was a lovable, sympathetic disposition, qualities she did not always display unless the appeal was very deep.

Largely through her strenuous efforts at Tuskegee, a home for girls' industries was erected--Dorothy Hall--and she was made director of that phase of the work. For twenty-six years she inspired young girls as well as the teachers who worked with her, with the importance of learning practical things,--the necessity of knowing how to make the home attractive, how to properly prepare and serve wholesome meals,--the importance of sanitation and good health; and all matters that were so vital in the development of womanhood of our race.

Located in a community where social service work was a crying need, she visited rural homes, schools and churches. Into these places she always carried sunshine and words of encouragement; with the assurance that a better day for the Negro was ahead if he would only improve his home and conditions around it, send his children to school, and seize the opportunities that were at his door. This message was received by large numbers of rural folks and in many communities improvements were evident. Women's clubs, night schools and mothers' meetings were agencies

set in action, and teachers at the Institute were detailed here and there to keep close supervision over each newly started interest.

Thirty years ago Mrs. Washington organized the Tuskegee Woman's Club. It is composed of women of the faculty and families of the Institute. At the time of organization she was elected president and held that position until her death. This is one of the best known groups in the South, and has done a magnificent work, first, in bringing the women of the Institute in close touch with one another, together with helping the poor and dependent in the community, and inspiring high ideas and ideals in the women generally.

With the full years her vision broadened and her interests extended. She was one of the few in a group of women who met in the north and agreed to organize clubs all over the country, which finally resulted in the National Association of Colored Women. She was made National President at Hampton Institute, Va., in 1910, a position she held for two terms. It is customary that the ex-presidents of the National Association be made honorary Presidents at the expiration of their term of office. This gives them life-time membership on the National Executive Board. Mrs. Washington, therefore, continued to give much of her thought and time to this growing power for good.

Largely through her untiring efforts, the women of the state of Alabama were organized and federated clubs started that have done constructive and far-reaching work all over the state. Mrs. Washington was president of the Alabama State Federation for a number of years. At this time Negro boys, young and old, were sent to the jails for petty offenses as there was no place provided for the confinement of such cases. Mrs. Washington, with a number of influential women of Alabama, realized the need of a reform school for colored boys where they might be sent and given a chance to be taught the right way of living. Clubs all over the state responded liberally to this cause.

Individuals, North and South, made generous contributions, and the school became a reality. The officials of the state were glad to recognize this creditable work of the colored women. Seeing its growth and knowing the need for such an institution, located at Mt. Meigs, Alabama, is now the home of three hundred and more boys who are cared for, controlled, taught and loved. It has done great good, and many a wayward boy has gotten a new lease on life and taken a fresh hold.

A similar school for girls has been started at Mt. Meigs, Alabama, under separate management. This was another seed planted and nurtured by Mrs. Washington and the club women of the state. The little seed has sprung up, as yet tiny plant, but never to be crushed, for it is the determination of the women of Alabama to have as good an institution for the girls as the one already established for the boys, with the satisfaction and assurance that the State will come to the rescue when the time is fully ripe.

In Richmond, Virginia, a few years ago, Mrs. Washington organized the International Council of Women of the Darker Races of the World, and inspired here at Tuskegee a course of study on conditions of women in foreign lands. She thought and spoke of them as our sisters, and it was her hope that this Council would bring together the women of the darker races in a close and sympathetic contact.

Very recently she was appointed Chairman of the Colored Women's Work for the Inter-Racial Commission of Alabama. She was a member of the general commission with headquarters in Atlanta,, Georgia. Her opinions and advice were sought on the subject of race relations, a study in which she was profoundly interested. So great was her faith in both races that she firmly believed the question of interracial co-operation would ultimately be adjusted.

Mrs. Washington is asleep, not dead. "Can a woman die whose ideals live?" Tuskegee and our country have lost a great character in her passing, but her memory and

influence will live always. I was glad it was my privilege to have been intimately associated with her for the past nine years. She has rendered real service in helping the women of our race realize they have a definite place the world will respect, that no other women can fill.

  --  1865-1925   Table of Contents     MADAM EMMA AZALIA HACKLEY
  --  1867-1922