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"Bible, Bath, and Broom": Nannie Helen Burroughs's National Training School and African-American Racial Uplift Victoria W. Wolcott In a promotional booklet, "Making Their Mark," school president and founder Nannie H. Burroughs looked back on the accompUshments of the National Training School for Women and Girls by relating the story of former student Bettie B. Reed. When a white famüy hired Reed to accompany them to their summer home in Maine, there was only one bathtub in the home which the famüy refused to let Reed use. Reed would not accept the job unless the family acquiesced and "it became a question as to whether they would give up their prejudice or the prospects of having a trained household assistant during the summer." The family finally agreed to Reed's demands, and when they returned in the fall Burroughs quoted them as saying, "We are begging her to go back with us next season. We want to tell you that she is a great deal cleaner than we are and just as refined. We are sorry we mentioned the bath tub [sic]. Our objection was based on mere hearsay about colored people."1 For Burroughs this anecdote exemplified the work of the National Training School in negating images of African-American working women as "unclean" and "unrefined."2 In the first 4 decades of the twentieth century the National Training School prepared young African-American women both to "uplift the race" and earn a livelihood. By incorporating industrial education with training in morality, religion, and cleanliness, school founder Nannie Helen Burroughs and her staff attempted to resolve a conflict central to the lives of African-American women: their role as wage laborers in ghettoized service occupations, and their role as guardians of the community and models for "the race." Burroughs and her staff combined a variety of ideological strands to resolve this conflict with the overall goal of training female students for service to their race. They focused on economic improvement, religious piety, and community pride—ideas that crossed a domestic ideology of femininity and a racial ideology of African-American autonomy. By adapting a complex set of ideals that resonated with African-American women across the country, the National Training School chaUenged the dominant culture's image of immoral African-American women, trained young AfricanAmerican women to be community activists as well as efficient wage © 1997 JOURNAL OF WOMEN'S HISTORY, VOL. 9 NO. 1 (SPRING) 1997 Victoria W. Wolcott 89 workers, and reinforced the gendered ideals of sexual purity and respectability as central to racial uplift. Some scholars have viewed racial uplift as a middle-class strategy of reform that chaUenged white racism while furthering class stratification within the African-American community.3 Other scholars have viewed uplift ideology as a project of racial advancement based on community consensus and inter-class cooperation.4 As seen in the case of the National Training School particular aspects of racial uplift resonated strongly with working-class women because these values were already part of their worldview. Notions of moratity, respectability, cleanliness, and reUgiosity were not ideological gifts of the middle class handed down to the poor, but rather part of a pre-existing working-class culture. There did exist, however, class-based tensions in the early twentieth century over appropriate wage work for African-American women and the role female migrants would play in new urban African-American communities. These tensions were reflected in the pedagogy of the National Training School, and the interaction of students with Burroughs and her staff. The many letters received by Burroughs from working-class women seeking to place their daughters, nieces, and granddaughters in the school also reveal that efforts to control the sexuality of young African-American women was a priority not only for middle-class women. Thus, the ideology promoted by the National Training School wove together common concerns of African Americans who sought to improve the material Uves of a generation of young women. Racial Uplift Ideology and the National Training School Racial pride, respectabiUty, and the work ethic were central components both in the training offered by the National Training School and racial uplift ideology. Burroughs and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-2036
Print ISSN
1042-7961
Pages
pp. 88-110
Launched on MUSE
2010-03-25
Open Access
No
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