American National Biography Online
Brown, Hallie Quinn (10 Mar. 1849-16 Sept. 1949), educator, elocutionist, and entertainer, was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the daughter of Thomas Arthur Brown, a steward and express agent on riverboats, and Frances Jane Scroggins. Both her parents were former slaves.
When Hallie was fourteen years old she moved with her parents
and five siblings to Chatham, Ontario, where her father earned
his living farming, and the children attended the local school.
There Brown's talents as a speaker became evident. Returning
to the United States around 1870, the family settled in Wilberforce,
Ohio, so that Hallie and her younger brother could attend Wilberforce
College, a primarily black African Methodist Episcopal (AME) institution.
In 1873 Brown received her B.S. from Wilberforce. The next year
she began her work as a lecturer and reciter for the Lyceum,
a traveling educational and entertainment program. She would
continue both of these careers, as educator and entertainer,
throughout much of her life, often doing them simultaneously.
After graduating she moved south to help with the educational
needs of southern blacks identified under Reconstruction. She
taught at plantation schools and grade schools in Mississippi
and South Carolina for several years.
In the early 1880s Brown quit teaching and started to tour with
the Lyceum full time. She was an immense success throughout the
Midwest. In 1882 she joined a group of singers known as the Wilberforce Concert Company (later the Stewart Concert Company) that toured throughout the nation for four seasons, raising money for Wilberforce College. Throughout her American travels, Brown received accolades for her elocution.
From 1885 to 1887 Brown served as dean of Allen University in
Columbia, South Carolina, after which she returned to Ohio to
teach public school in Dayton from 1887 to 1891. Her concern
for southern blacks continued, and she established a night school
for migrants. From 1892 to 1893 she taught under Frederick Douglass
at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama before returning to her alma
mater, now Wilberforce University, as both a professor of elocution
and a trustee.
Brown's lyceum work made her unable to accept the Wilberforce
appointment immediately. In 1894 her work as an entertainer and
educator took her to Europe, where she remained for five years,
spending most of her time in the United Kingdom, although she
also visited Germany, Switzerland, and France. During this time,
Brown lectured to Europeans on black life in the United States
and Negro song and folklore. She was presented twice to Queen
Victoria, in 1897 and 1899, and helped to form the first British
Chatauqua (another touring educational and entertainment organization)
in North Wales in 1895. After returning to the United States
she continued her elocutionist career, attending a variety of
conferences in the early years of the new century. During all
of this time she remained affiliated with Wilberforce, although
her teaching requirements were obviously minimal.
In 1906 William S. Scarborough, the president of Wilberforce,
reappointed Brown to the position of professor of elocution and
also named her as the traveling agent for the institution. Her
assignment was to raise money for the construction of a new men's
dormitory. In 1910, during a second trip to Europe, she managed
to pique the interest of E. J. Emery, a female philanthropist
in London. Two years later, Emery donated $16,000, which was
used to build a new women's dormitory at Wilberforce. The building
was named Keziah Emery Hall in honor of Emery's mother. In 1914
Brown's appointment at the college was reestablished, with the
more specific addition of the title of "soliciting agent." From
1915 to 1919 Brown, then in her sixties, taught freshman English
Brown never married, and she was very active in the reform movements
and politics of her time. In 1893 she attended the World's Columbian
Exposition in Chicago, where she approached the Board of Lady
Managers that oversaw the exhibits of accomplishment of American
women. Brown asked that she be appointed to the board to ensure
that the achievements of black women would receive recognition.
She was rejected on the ground that she did not represent an
organization. Returning home to Ohio, Brown responded, that same
year, by forming the Colored Women's League, the forerunner of
the National Association of Colored Women.
In 1920 Brown was appointed as the seventh president of the
National Association of Colored Women. She held the position
for two successive terms until 1924. During her presidency the
organization initiated a move to preserve abolitionist Douglass's
Anacostia home. It also instituted a fund to be used for higher
education of black female students. Brown remained the honorary
president of this organization until her death.
During the 1890s Brown also was an active member of the Women's
Christian Temperance Union and the British Women's Temperance
Association. In 1895 she was a speaker at the World's Women's
Christian Temperance Union in London. She was also very involved
in the African Methodist Episcopal church. In 1900 she was the
first woman to campaign for an office in the AME church's general
conference, an endeavor at which she was unsuccessful.
In addition to her active pursuit of rights for women and blacks,
Brown was involved in mainstream American politics. In 1920 she
campaigned for Warren G. Harding for the presidency, becoming
the first woman to speak from his famous front porch during the
campaign. She also was involved in the Ohio campaign for Herbert
Hoover in 1932.
Brown died at her home in Wilberforce, Ohio.
Brown wrote seven books and many pamphlets during her life,
including Bits and Odds: A Choice Selection of Recitations (1880),
First Lessons in Public Speaking (1920), The Beautiful: A True
Story of Slavery (1924), Our Women: Past, Present and Future
(1925), Tales My Father Told (1925), Homespun Heroines and Other
Women of Distinction (1925), and Pen Pictures of Pioneers of
Wilberforce (1937); she also dramatized Trouble in Turkeytrot
Church by P. A. Nichols.
During her life, her activism was documented in Elizabeth Lindsay
Davis, ed., Lifting as They Climb (1933), and a brief biography
is in A. Augustus Wright, ed., Who's Who in the Lyceum (1906).
A more recent article, Ann Jennette S. McFarlin, "Hallie Quinn
Brown: Black Woman Elocutionist," Southern Speech Communication
Journal 46 (Fall 1980): 72-82, discusses her elocution career
as well as her life in general. Erlene Stetson, "Black Feminism
in Indiana, 1893-1933," Phylon 64, no. 4 (1983): 292-98, further
discusses Brown's impact on the women's and civil rights movements.
Claire Strom. "Brown, Hallie Quinn";
American National Biography Online Feb. 2000.
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