Hallie Quinn Brown was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1845, the daughter of two former slaves, Thomas Arthur Brown and Frances Jane Scroggins. Allowed to purchase his freedom, Thomas was the son of a Scottish woman who owned a Maryland plantation and the plantation’s black overseer. Frances was freed by one of her grandfathers, a white Revolutionary War officer and plantation owner. Both were well educated, her father became known as “Mr. Brown, the walking encyclopedia”, and her mother was an unofficial advisor and counselor to the students of Wilberforce University, a private, coeducational, historically black liberal arts college. Both Thomas and Frances were actively involved with the Underground Railroad. Her parents’ commitment to the cause would later influence the organizations Brown founded and participated in.
The Brown Family moved from Pittsburgh to Ontario, Canada in 1864 and then to Wilberforce, Ohio in 1870. Brown attended Wilberforce University, and graduated from there in 1873, with a Bachelor of Science degree. After graduation, she began teaching on the Senora Plantation in Mississippi and went on to teach on several plantations during her life. Her efforts focused on improving the literacy levels of black children who had been denied the chance during slavery. Several years later she moved onto Columbia City Schools and then to Allen University in Columbia. Brown served as the Dean at Allen University from 1885 to 1887. From 1887 to 1891, she taught night school for African Americans in Dayton, Ohio. And in 1892 was appointed principal (Dean of Women) of Tuskegee Institutes in Alabama from 1892-1893, where she worked with Booker T. Washington. Returning to Ohio, Brown taught in the Dayton Public Schools for four years and established an adult class for migrant workers.
In 1893, Brown was the principle promoter of the organization of the Colored Women’s League of Washington, D.C. She also helped found the National Association of Colored Women (NACW). Brown began traveling in 1894 as a lecturer and public speaker for African American culture and temperance. During her travel, she spoke before Queen Victoria (Alexandria 1819-1901 Queen of Great Britain 1837-1901), the 1895 Convention of the World’s Women Christian Temperance Union in London, and the 1899 International Congress of Women, as a representative of the United States.
In 1900, the A.M.E church elected Brown as their Secretary of Education where she became the first woman to serve as a “daughter of the church.” She also served as the President of the Ohio Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs from 1905 to 1912. In 1910, she spoke as a representative to the Woman’s Missionary Society of the African Methodist Conference, which was held in Edinburgh. Brown was also was active in Republican politics during the 1920s and addressed the party’s national convention in 1924 leading to her campaign work among African American women backed by President Coolidge.
She became the 7th National President of the NACW from 1920 to 1924 and acted as its honorary President until her death in 1949. During the time she served as the President of the N.A.C.W., she pursued two major projects: one was dedicated to the maintenance of Fredrick Douglass’ home as a memorial in Washington, D.C., and the other was the establishment of the Hallie Q. Brown Scholarship Fund for the education of women.
Brown died on September 16, 1949, in Wilberforce, Ohio, of coronary thrombosis. Two buildings are named in her honor: the Hallie Q. Brown Memorial Library in Wilberforce, Ohio, and our Community Center.
In addition to her speeches, Brown authored several books and prose collections including: Bits and Odds: A Choice Selection of Recitations, published in 1880; First Lessons in Public Speaking, published in 1920; The Beautiful: A Story of Slavery, published in 1924; Tales My Father Told. Published in 1925 and Homespun Heroines and Other Women of Distinction, published in 1926. Brown’s works commonly address such topics as the importance of history and of social change, often using African American vernacular to stress these messages with the goal of helping to educate.
Of particular note is Homespun Heroines, wherein Brown tells the life story of 60 African American women. In the introduction she states the context: “This book is presented as an evidence of appreciation and as a token of regard for the history-making women of our race.” Within it, Brown includes a description of significant events in each of the women’s lives, along with things they have accomplished (by sara). Every story begins with the birth of a distinguished woman and concludes with a statement about the life each has led.
An online version of the book is available by clicking here.