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Never Forget

The 100th anniversary of women attaining the vote is near. What a struggle it was to gain a right that was already theirs. We may forget how hard women fought for this right. I keep thinking that we may take it for granted and some may not even chose to exercise this right today. Women, know your place…everywhere a voice is to be heard! Get out and vote.

I would like to highlight some of the little known women involved in this battle-and it was a full fledged battle. Let's not forget.

Hallie Quinn Brown was the daughter of former slaves, Frances Jane Scroggins and Thomas Arthur Brown, whose Ohio home was a stop on the Underground Railroad escape route for slaves. Her father, who bought his freedom and that of family members, was the son of a Scottish plantation owner and her African American overseer; her mother was the granddaughter of a white planter who had fought in the Revolutionary War, and she was freed by this grandfather. Hallie was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on March 10, 1849 or 50, and was one of six children. This birth date may be arbitrary and many accounts reflect the uncertainty of the actual date. Her father was an incredibly bright man, known as "Mr. Brown, the walking encyclopedia." Her mother was also well educated, a counselor to the students of Wilberforce school. Brown's family to Canada in 1864 and then to Ohio in 1870.

In 1873 she graduated with a Bachelor of Science from Wilberforce University in Ohio. Her teaching career began shortly after graduation in a tiny, country school, on a plantation, in South Carolina. The classes were very large with many children making the trip to her classroom from neighboring plantations. She also taught a class for seniors, who previously could not read. The amenities were few and it was a rough life she was living which taxed her health to a great degree.

Soon she moved to Mississippi where she headed up another school. It was physically not any easier and she said that she said that the people here were greatly hindered by the use of tobacco and whiskey. Her crowded little classroom had no windows but as she put it, was well ventilated and the when it rained, it beat fiercely inside the classroom as well. The owners of the building refused to fix a thing. A couple of her older students offered to assist her in making repairs. They were wear of being rained on! Hallie bravely mounted a mule she had borrowed and the boys mounted another. They rode into the gin mill together. The secured cotton seed and returned to the school where they mixed it with earth to form a paste of sorts. With her own hands she plastered up the holes in the building. She had what historians have termed, “a true missionary spirit.”.

Her next position was as head teacher in Dayton, Ohio. Her health was failing her at this time, no doubt from the rigor of teaching in ill-equipped buildings. It was not long before she was forced to retire. After regaining better health she traveled on a lecture tour for her alma mater, Wilberforce University. They offered her a position as instruction on both elocution and literature but she declined. She did accept a position a Tuskegee Institute while taking advanced classes at Wilberforce. She worked in various capacities and at one point with Booker T. Washington and at another with Frederick Douglas. Hallie became a highly respected educator, author, lecturer and civil rights activist speaking before hundreds of thousands of people. She had a rich, smooth and magnetic voice and she often used humor and sometimes pathos causing tears to flow in the audience in both instances. Often she spoke not only of women’s rights but the rights of colored women and their civil rights.

Brown taught in several Southern schools. While in Dayton, Ohio, she enrolled in elocution classes and it was at this time that her career in public speaking began. As an elocutionist she toured several cities in Ohio and Indiana; favorable reception encouraged her to continue on to New York, Philadelphia, and various Southern states.

She was a mover and a shaker! In 1887, she graduated again, from Wilberforce with a Master of Science degree, the first woman to do so. In Great Britain, in 1889 she spoke to popular acclaim on African American life, and made several appearances before Queen Victoria, including tea with the Queen in July of that year. In 1893 she presented a paper at the World’s Congress of Representative Women in Chicago. She was a founding mother of the Colored Woman’s League of Washington, D.C. which in 1894 became the National Association of Colored Women. She represented the United States at the International Congress of Women in London in 1899.

She was the president of the Ohio State Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs from 1905 until 1912 and the National Association of Colored Women from 19290 until 1924. She was a featured speaker at the Republican National Convention in 1924 and later headed a campaign for President Calvin Coolidge. In 1936 she earned an LL.D. (doctorate-level academic degree in law), from Wilberforce. She was an honorary member of Delta Sigma Theta.

Hallie Quinn Brown published four significant works during her lifetime. In 1880, Bits and Odds: A Choice Selection of Recitations was published. Thirty years later, in 1910, she published Elocution and Physical Culture. Brown’s First Lessons in Public Speaking made its public debut in 1920. In 1926 her book Homespun Heroines and Other Women of Distinction appeared. This work profiled the leading African American women of the era and became her most popular work. Hallie Quinn Brown died in Wilberforce, Ohio in 1949.

One remarkable Women, Hallie Quinn Brown!

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