Educator Nannie Helen Burroughs


Her father was a preacher. Her mother taught Sunday school. When Nannie Helen Burroughs was born in 1879, the family lived in Orange, Virginia.

Not long after Nannie was born, her father died. Her younger sister died a few years after. Nannie’s mother, now raising her daughter as a single parent, moved with Nannie to Washington D.C. in search of better opportunities.

Nannie Helen Burroughs
Nannie Helen Burroughs

There Nannie went to school, and after completing her schooling, looked for work teaching. Unable to find a job, she spent over a decade working as an editorial secretary and bookkeeper. But tenacious in personality, she refused to let her dream die. She raised money and opened a school, the National Training School for Women and Girls in Washington D.C. in 1909, intending to help Black women achieve financial independence and help “uplift the race.”

“Specialized training meets the definite requirements in the world of today. It gives the graduate special advantage over those who have only a general education. It is less difficult for her to secure employment and make advancement in her field. It develops job security.” This was her reasoning for opening a trade school as in Washington D.C. at the time, the “largest occupational category for black female workers was domestic service.”

Nannie had a motto for life, “Do ordinary things in an extraordinary way.” This motto was at the heart of all she did and the training students received.


  • If you enjoyed this snapshot biography of Nannie Helen Burroughs, please consider supporting Historical Snapshots with a donation. Visit our Patreon page to donate. Your support is much appreciated.
  • This story was updated on February 9th, 2021.


  • Harley, Sharon. “Nannie Helen Burroughs: ‘The Black Goddess of Liberty’.” The Journal of Negro History 81, no. 1/4 (1996): 62-71. Accessed October 12, 2020.
  • Taylor, Traki L. “‘Womanhood Glorified’: Nannie Helen Burroughs and the National Training School for Women and Girls, Inc., 1909-1961.” The Journal of African American History, vol. 87, 2002, pp. 390–402. JSTOR, Accessed 20 Oct. 2020