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The Future Colored Girl

August 25-29, 1886 — First American National Baptist Convention, St. Louis, MO


In Switzerland travelers are shown what is called “The Meeting of the Waters.” It is the conflux of the Rhone and Arno. It is said that as one stands looking at the wild, rushing Arno, all thoughts of self are forgotten; and for the time being, the turbulence thrills and fills the soul.

The two rivers, one steady and placid, the other swift and maddening, flow side by side in the same bed without mixing until a point several miles from the meeting-place is reached, then gradually, drop by drop, they become one. So it was with the education of the colored youth in the South. When the public school system was first established we made a wild rush for the education offered. History will record that never since the time of Frederick the Great was such a sudden waking up of zeal for the education of a people. Here and there schools were started and enthusiastic friends extolled the marvelous aptness of the colored child. It was thought by many that the Anglo-Saxon standing as the proud monument of centuries steady climbing, wrestling with kings, battling with priests and the conflicts of ages, would be left far behind in the race of intellectual advancement. Everything was forgotten except the cramming of heads. All other members of the body were given a long rest. Honest toil was shunned and the highest ambition of those who had educational affairs in control seemed to be in cheating the humbler paths of labor of their rightful heritage to fill the pulpit and teachers chair. As time rolled on, a few saw breakers in the distance and gave the alarm. For a while the two branches of education, that of the head and that of the hand, took the same direction but refused to become one. By degrees physical culture was agitated, manual labor introduced in our best schools, and at this time no education is considered complete unless the hand as well as the head can perform suitable labor. It is generally conceded that to educate one part of a child to the neglect of others is dangerous. Man has not only gone forward with time and the course of events, but taking it all in all his possibilities are greater than ever before; the same can be said with equal truth of women. The women of to-day are the girls of yesterday; if then I speak of women that are but grown up girls, and being heirs of all the ages, especially of our own day, we can truly be guided by past experiences and prevent many an ache and tear by saving the forest in the seed — the woman in the girl. [illeg.]

Observation will show that taking it as a whole men occupy vantage ground. I say, without fear of successful contradiction, that during the years of which we have record, the atmosphere in which women have moved has been fraught with repression, limitation and servitude. Now and then epochs in which she was considered the equal of man have dotted the annals of the past, but they were as short-lived as the meteors that shoot across the sky. The French have accorded her much latitude in the literary world. The Hindoos have such a contempt for women they do not allow them to speak the same language as their lords and masters. In Corea women really have no moral existence, have not even a name. They are either instruments of pleasure or machines of labor but never man’s equal and companion. The Grecians said she was “an accidental production,” and treated her as a child. The Hebrews said she was an “after thought of the Creator[.”] In the Apostolic times she was considered a “domestic peril,” a “necessary evil”; they also admitted that she was a ” desirable calamity.” Among the Sioux she is a beast of burden. In Russia her voice is never heard in church; she is not considered worthy to sing the praises of God in the presence of men. Even in our own America, in this last quarter of the Nineteenth Century ablaze with the electric light of intelligence, if she leaves the paths made straight and level by centuries steady tramp of her sex, she is denominated strong-minded or masculine by those who forget that “new occasions make new duties.”

Proof of Her Capabilities

are demonstrated by the great number that has taken front rank in the march of progress. It matters not in what walk of life you enter, foot-prints of women are found who have gone before, clearing forests, spanning rivers and making straight, in the desert of ignorance, a highway for the girls of to-day. We have representatives in science who have now world-wide renown. In political economy they have discussed every question which vexed the heads of sages, whether of government, labor, reform, slavery, peace, religion or temperance. In politics we have had some of the shrewdest the world has ever known; some who influenced the boldest intellects and the most ardent spirits of their times. Powerful and sagacious queens have wielded the sceptre, and, like Napoleon, the most illustrious were creators of kings. Scores of authors have done much with their pens to improve human society. To name the philanthropist would be to name the majority of American and English women who have been known by the public in ‘ the last fifty years. Painters, sculptors, poets, song-birds, orators and lecturers abound. Madam De Staël is the philosopher whom all women delight to mention. On one occasion she said: I rejoice not so much that I have learning, but that there are ten occupations at which I could make a living. This brings us to the subject direct. After all the discussions and admissions concerning women and their “rights,” all Christendom has conceded her the right of having something to do.”

The great want of the Nineteenth Century is opening of pursuits where women can earn a respectable living. In no period of our Nations history have so many women been thrown on their own exertions as now. How they are to wrest food, clothing and shelter from the world is one of the great problems of the day. What can she do in the economy of society? Women have been breadwinners since the birth of history and probably anterior to that date. When Miss Martineau visited America forty years ago to study the condition of working women, she said that Massachusetts, one of the most liberal communities on the globe, had thrown open only seven doors of industry to her women. As time passed with no chronometer but a consciousness of being unjustly hampered, with no dial but a glimmering hope that the future held brighter things, 1886 finds in the same State 284 occupations employing 251,158 women who receive from 150 to 3,000 per annum.

History furnishes a clue to the condition of laboring women of other nationalities, but no pen can tell, no tongue describe how dearly earned is the bread of the majority of

Colored Women. Colored Women,

Her social standing, moral, physical and intellectual status is discussed, but how she makes her way as a laborer except in such positions as include scrubbing floors of offices, hotels and other public buildings, staggering under huge baskets of clothes to be laundried lugging petulant children, cooking or house cleaning is, in reality, a matter of conjecture. Recognizing the fact that we cannot reach the heights to which we aspire until we find new fields of labor for our girls, it is necessary that we who are interested in directing their future should search out other avenues and lend the weight of our influence in making openings. What our girls will do depends largely on the opportunity of getting the work. Many desire, and would do much, but the present financial condition of our people and the prejudice which closes the doors of four-fifths of the industries to us prevent. I would suggest, first, a change in the home life of our people so that the masses that Eve in the country where property is cheap and money can be saved, to start the girl in business. The city is not the place for the majority because the present state of affairs are against our children. While fair play is being agitated by our journals we should be accumulating money so as to be ready when the pportunity comes. In large cities hundreds of white girls whose acquirements and native ability are inferior in many instances to many of ours, are employed in stores and business houses after leaving school, while ours, whether they so desire or not, are forced to either teach, sew or become dependents on hard-worked parents. Of five hundred employments at which women are quoted as earning a living, there is none perhaps, that, with judicious management, will yield so large a profit as poultry-keeping.

Poultry Is King.

Throughout this country enterprising and industrious girls as well as men are engaged in this business. In 1882 the value of poultry products was 560,000,000. Statistics show that this exceeded the wheat crop by 92,000,000; of the hay crop by 124,000,000, and of the cotton crop by 150,000,000 or more than double their value. There is always ready sale for poultry products in large quantities at hotels, boarding houses and such places. The demand is greater than the supply. Within the last eleven years 101,173,835 dozen eggs, valued at 14,565,047, have been brought into the United States from foreign lands. Hundreds and hundreds could make a good living by selling eggs only, to say nothing of the price paid for feathers and poultry. A small capital is all that is necessary for beginners.

It is surprising how little ground is required for

Small Fruit Raising,

such as strawberries, currents, &t. I have a friend who, last year, realized 500 on a strawberry bed one-third of an acre large. Foreigners are growing wealthy at fruit-selling and our girls could do the same by selling early in the season when fruits are high-priced, and when cheap, preserve to fill winter contracts with caterers.

Milk, butter and cheese are so wholesome that


ranks with the most important branches of industry wherein girls can succeed. Pure butter and milk are always in demand. One good cow will give several hundred gallons of milk in a year and an opportunity to make 900 pounds of butter. Regular customers are waiting. Every year millions of pounds of cheese are shipped from the United States to England. Floriculture


is one of the most pleasant as well as the most healthy and profitable employments. Flower markets succeed in proportion to the refinement of the locality. Flowers of all kinds, roots, plants, and bouquets are in demand the year round. There is a young girl in New York who sometimes sends out 1,000 worth in one evening. Bee

Bee Culture.

In many Southern States and in Great Britain many women have turned their attention to this work. The expense is a mere trifle; hives can be made at home and the bee furnishes its own board. Prudent and skillful management coupled with industry will bring success. In an article on labor, by Rev. W.J. Simmons, I find the following: “One hive of bees will teach more lessons of industry to the children than all the school masters. Give them a hive apiece; let them learn there are 20,000 to 40,000 little creatures to care for, that their hive has only one of 250 different kinds, and then let them collect and sell the honey and the wax, increasing their stock from year to year.”

The South supplies honey for the Northern market and sale is always certain.


There are hundreds of men and women who would like information on certain subjects but will not buy the books. These are willing to pay to hear a lecture. The field for competent female lecturers is a broad one. Our women and men are surprisingly ignorant about the laws of health. Herbert Spencer says: “To tens of thousands that are killed add hundreds of thousands that survive with feeble constitutions and millions that grow up with constitutions not so strong as they should be and you will have some idea of the curse inflicted on the offspring by parents ignorant of the laws of health.” If our women of tomorrow are to be what we hope, intellectually, reform in the home-life of our people must be agitated. Many thoroughly qualified women have given to the world their knowledge of hygiene, but ours is not a reading people. Our girls must qualify themselves to rectify these evils.

One of the most desirable fields of labor is

Newspaper Work.

Proof-reading, type-setting, editorial work, & c. In every city of importance we have papers that would gladly give employment to competent colored girls. The aspirations of our people and their thirst for knowledge will create a heavier demand for editorial work in the future. We need papers and magazines edited by women, for women. Some have entered this field and are succeeding admirably. Others should do the same. Of late years the public has declared itself favorable to the art of


Outfits are so cheap that a few dozen photographs will cover the bill. Very much of the art can be learned alone by one who desires to succeed. Photographic sceneries are very popular and a girl could make a living at it. Some of the greatest physicians of the age advise that more women devote their time to the study of

The mortality among the colored people in the South is alarming. Our girls must play the part of healer, and give special study to the diseases of women, and restore to her good health the birthright she has sacrificed at the shrine of fashion. The founder of the New England Female Medical College said: “The practice of male physicians in the department of diseases of women and children is not only dangerous but destructive of health.” I think all surgical operation on women should be performed only by women. As long as there are people there will be sickness, and as long as there is sickness there will be a call for competent sick nurses. A good nurse is often more necessary than a physician. Thorough training is indispensable. Although the pay is good, only strong girls with patient, cheerful dispositions should think of fitting themselves for it

Teachers of Fancy Needle Work

can earn from 5 to S10 per week; often, more. Until late years we knew nothing of this pleasant, profitable pastime. Lessons in embroidery, crochet, heir, Wax, bead and paper work bring from 25 to 50 cent to 1.50 each. A skillful girl can, by placing work on exhibition, get as many pupils as she can teach. Together with this she could combine Lustre and Kensington Painting, Repousse or brass hammering, and the German Decorative Art, which, though simple, will doubly pay for all investments.

To the above list I could add telegraphy, stenography, agencies, hair dressing, bleaching and pressing of straw work, bird-raising, silk culture, typewriting, missionary labor, the work of the elocutionist, & c. A false notion of propriety in regard to the rearing of girls has so ruled the world that in most Cases they are unable physically to compete in the same field of labor with boys the same age. It is not only unnecessary but a gross sin that so many girls are unhealthy. In many cases they are born with sickly bodies, but proper hygienic living will, in nine cases out of ten, overcome physical defects. Give the girl the same freedom in exercising as the boy, the same liberty of wearing loose clothes, the same mental food and she will accomplish the same work. I do not want the boys to have all the labor, the girls all the rest. Place them on the same footing by giving them the same education.

“The honest, earnest man must stand and work, The woman also — otherwise she drops At once below the dignity of man, Accepting serfdom”

It is one of the evils of the day that from babyhood girls are taught to look forward to the time when they will be supported by a father, a brother or somebody’s [ sic ] else brother. In teaching her that in whatever field of labor she enters she will abandon after a few years is teaching her to despise the true dignity of labor. The boy is taught to fill this life with as many hard strokes as possible. The girl should receive the same lesson. In Mythology we read of a bird that has only one wing. When it desires to fly, the male and female come together as we do when clasping hands, and thus they soar above clouds and frosts to bathe in the clear sunlight. So with our men and women of to-morrow. They must

“Rise or sink together Dwarfed or god-like, bond or free.”

Let it be remembered that the Lord of harvests has said, “In all labor there is profit”; and in his sight there is neither male nor female.



Source: Minutes and Addresses of the American National Baptist Convention, Held at St. Louis, MO, Aug. 25-29, ’86, by Lucy Wilmot Smith (Jackson MS: J.J. Spelman) 1887, pp. 68-74.


Also: We are Coming: The Persuasive Discourse of Nineteenth-Century Black Women, Shirley Wilson Logan, (Southern Illinois University) 1999.