Hallie Quinn Brown

Hallie Quinn Brown was an African American born free on March 10, 1845, according to some sources1. She became an acclaimed elocutionist, educator, author and political activist who lived an extraordinary life of service and commitment as she fought for the rights of African American people and especially African American women. She is frequently credited as being one of the most remarkable Black leaders, especially notable during the onerous period of Reconstruction.

Hallie Quinn Brown, Educator and Activist, Cape Draped on Shoulder…. Fred S. Biddle, photographer. Xenia, Ohio: Biddle, [between 1875 and ca. 1888]. Prints & Photographs Division

She was the daughter of two former enslaved persons, Thomas Arthur Brown and Frances Jane Scroggins. Thomas was the son of a Scottish woman, who owned a Maryland plantation, and the plantation’s Black overseer. He was allowed to purchase his freedom. Frances was freed by one of her grandfathers who was a white Revolutionary War officer and plantation owner. Brown started her life in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. For her, this was an activist environment. She witnessed the commitment of her parents to fight the horrible and unjustifiable treatment of African Americans through their active involvement with the Underground Railroad.

Unlike most of her contemporaries, Brown was well educated. In 1873, she was one of the first African American women to graduate from Wilberforce University. She also graduated in 1886 from the Chautauqua Lecture School. Wilberforce awarded her an honorary Master’s degree in 1890 and an honorary Doctorate of Law in 1936.

Wilberforce University, Xenia, Ohio…. Cincinnati, Ohio: Middleton, Wallace & Co., Lithographers [1850-1860]. Popular Graphic Arts. Prints & Photographs Division

She used her education initially as a teacher. Her career started with plantation schools in South Carolina and Mississippi. Due to the prominence of lynching and other violent attacks against Blacks in the South, her career continued in northern public schools. Later she held faculty positions at various universities. Her career culminated with appointments as dean of Allen University, dean of women at Tuskegee Institute and trustee at Wilberforce University.

Brown’s training at the Chautauqua Lecture School served as the foundation to develop her skill in elocution, which is the art and practice of oral delivery including the use and control of both vocal production and gesture. Highly regarded as a professional elocutionist, she gave extensive performances: “In her era, she was recognized as one of the greatest elocutionists across two continents, Europe and America. Though she rarely appears in history books, Brown’s legacy can be found in today’s speech-language pathologists and spoken word artists.”2

Brown’s oratory skills were not only entertaining; she used her powerful voice to lecture for social change by advocating for African American political and civil rights, women’s suffrage, anti-lynching legislation and more. She was a member of a traveling group that raised money for Wilberforce University through performances. Her European engagements spanned several years and included the 1895 convention of the World’s Women’s Christian Temperance Union, a lecture before Queen Victoria in 1897 and the 1899 International Congress of Women. She was also a guest during Queen Victoria’s Jubilee Celebration in 1899.

She utilized her expertise as an elocutionist in three of the six books she published. In 1926, she served as the editor of Homespun Heroines and Other Women of Distinction. This encyclopedic text compiles 60 biographical sketches of prominent African American women. In the preface, Brown states, “It is our anxious desire to preserve for future reference an account of these women, their life and character and what they accomplished under the most trying and adverse circumstances.”

Homespun Heroines and Other Women of DistinctionExternal. Compiled and Edited by Hallie Q. Brown. Xenia, Ohio: The Aldine Publishing Company, 1926

Working with many African American women throughout America, Brown endeavored to establish a major political organization. She was a founding and dedicated member of the National Association of Colored Women’s ClubsExternal. This “mega” club was created with the merger and powerful alliance of hundreds of Black women’s clubs across America. It reflected their desire to have an influential national association to raise awareness around issues specific to the African American community. She served as president from 1920 to 1924. Following this, she served as honorary President until her death in 1949.

Her leadership roles in national and state politics also reflected Brown’s commitment to African Americans. Her positions included the vice-president of the Ohio Council of Republican Women and chair of the executive committee of the Negro Women’s National Republican League. During the 1920 run-up to the Presidential election, she spoke in support of Warren G. Harding’s nomination, and in 1924 she was quite possibly the first woman of color to address a national political convention.

Hallie Quinn Brown lived an incredible and exemplary life as a leader, activist and elocutionist. Her contributions, however, are frequently omitted from historical accounts. “By telling her story, we can utilize the past to inspire a new generation of activists to find their voice and use it to enact change.” 3

  1. Brown, Hallie Q. (Hallie Quinn), 1845-1949. Library of Congress Authorities(Return to text)
  2. Hallie Quinn Brown (ca.1850-1949). “Exploring the Meaning of Black Womanhood Series: Hidden Figures in NPS Places,” by Dr. Mia L. Carey. National Park Service(Return to text)
  3. Ibid.(Return to text)

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Alexander Graham Bell

On March 10, 1876, Alexander Graham Bell conducted a successful experiment with the telephone. This breakthrough, during which he uttered his famous directive to his assistant, Thomas Watson, is recorded in the March 10 entry in his 1875-1876 Lab Notebook.

Mr. Watson — come here — I want to see you.

March 10 1876 entry, Notebook by Alexander Graham Bell, from 1875 to 1876. Alexander Graham Bell Family Papers at the Library of Congress. Manuscript Division

Bell’s Lab Notebook, March 10, 1876. Reason Gallery A. American Treasures of the Library of Congress

That same day, an ebullient Bell wrote his father of his “great success” and speculated that “the day is coming when telegraph wires will be laid on to houses just like water and gas — and friends converse with each other without leaving home.”

Born on March 3, 1847, in Edinburgh, Scotland, Alexander Graham Bell was the son and grandson of authorities in elocution and the correction of speech. Educated to pursue a career in the same specialty, his knowledge of the nature of sound led him not only to teach the deaf, but also to invent the telephone.

Alexander Graham Bell at the opening of the long-distance line from New York to Chicago [October 18, 1892]. Gilbert H. Grosvenor Collection of Photographs of the Alexander Graham Bell Family. Prints & Photographs Division

Bell’s unceasing scientific curiosity led to invention of the photophone, to significant commercial improvements in Thomas Edison’s phonograph, and to development of his own flying machine just six years after the Wright Brothers launched their plane at Kitty Hawk. As President James Garfield lay dying of an assassin’s bullet in 1881, Bell hurriedly invented a metal detector in an unsuccessful attempt to locate the fatal slug.

In 1915, fifty-four years after telegraph lines connected America’s coasts, transcontinental telephone lines were completed. Invited to play a role in the formal dedication of the line in New York, Bell used a duplicate of his 1876 telephone to speak to his former assistant, Thomas Watson, in San Francisco. Echoing his famous words of March 10, 1876, Bell again commanded, “Mr. Watson, come here, I want you.” Watson replied that it would take him a week to do so.

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