Historical marker #2609, located in Jefferson County, commemorates the life and legacy of Nannie Helen Burroughs, suffragist, orator, educator, and club/church leader for gender and racial equality. During Nannie Helen Burroughs’ lifetime, she advocated for the eradication of lynching, to end racial discrimination, and supported equal employment and voting rights for women.
Born in Orange County, Virginia in 1879, Burroughs relocated to Louisville in the late 1890s when the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. (NBC) moved its headquarters there. Burroughs worked for the Foreign Mission Board of the National Baptist Convention from 1900-1910. Although Nannie Helen Burroughs only lived in Louisville for a dozen years, it was here where she began her journey towards national acclaim. While in Kentucky, she became a national religious and civil rights activist, educator, and an advocate for equal voting rights and educational and job opportunities for women.
Burroughs first attracted national attention in 1900 when she delivered a speech entitled “How the Sisters are Hindered from Helping,” at the National Baptist Convention’s annual meeting. Following her speech, Miss Burroughs’ reputation spread rapidly beyond Black Baptist circles to the larger African American community. As a result of this speech, she returned to help organize the Woman’s Convention of the National Baptist Convention, which became the largest Black women’s organization of its time.
Burroughs founded the Woman’s Industrial Club of Louisville to address the needs of Black women in downtown Louisville. The club was described as a business, charitable, and industrial club. Nannie instructed women of professions such as millinery, clerical work, and laundry work. She taught Louisville’s professional women how to improve their teaching, business, and clerical skills. For unskilled workers, Burroughs taught a course titled ‘Everyday Things Needed in the Home’ which covered sanitation, hygiene, respectable dress, childcare, cooking, sewing, and laundry work. An editorialist at the Louisville Courier Journal commented in 1903 about Burroughs’ work:
“Probably, no Woman’s Club in Louisville, or in fact, elsewhere is doing as much practical, far-
reaching good as the Association of Colored Women who own the ‘Industrial Club’ at 727 West Walnut Street in Louisville, Kentucky.”
Following her time in Louisville, Burroughs returned to Washington, D.C. She had an early connection to the nation’s capital, moving to D.C. with her mother when she was five years old. In 1896, Burroughs graduated with honors from M Street School, which is now known as Dunbar High School. In October 1909, the Woman’s Convention opened the National Training School for Women and Girls under the presidency of Nannie Helen Burroughs.
The convention’s identification with the working poor and its concern for employment options of Black women led to the establishment of this industrial school. The motto for the school was “Work. Support thyself. To thine own powers appeal.” The School’s emphasis on preparing women for domestic service and the perceptions of greater job opportunities for graduates were the driving forces behind the location of the school in Washington D.C. For Burroughs, mastering some of the most ordinary trades taught students self-reliance, thoroughness, accuracy, and appreciation of their usefulness in preparing for domestic service.
The National Training School for Women and Girls was renamed the Nannie Helen Burroughs School in 1964. Trades Hall at the Nannie Helen Burroughs School became a private elementary school, but it closed in 2006. The building now houses the Progressive National Baptist Convention and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a testament to Burroughs’ work at the School.
The marker was dedicated on May 12, 2021 and is located at 726 W Muhammad Ali Boulevard and S 8th Street in Louisville, KY, which was the original site of the Woman’s Industrial Club.
The marker reads:
Nannie Helen Burroughs (1879-1961)
A suffragist, orator, educator, &
club/church leader for gender and
racial equality, she worked in
Louisville for the Foreign Mission
Board of Nat’l Baptist Convention
from 1900-1910. She created the
Woman’s Industrial Club to teach
work skills to Black women & was a
founder of the Woman’s Convention
NBC & KY Assoc. of Colored Women.
Presented by Cheri B. Hamilton, Genie Potter
Notable Educator, Social Activist
Burroughs opened the National
Training School for Women and
Girls in Washington, D.C. Pupils
learned to become wage earners &
homemakers. The school was renamed
in her honor in 1964. Burroughs
dedicated her life to a just
society by advocating for voting
rights as political power, full
citizenship, & against lynching.
Louisville Office for Women