Washington, Margaret Murray
Washington, Margaret Murray
June 4, 1925
The child of a black mother, Lucy Murray, and a white father, educator and clubwoman Margaret Murray was born in Macon, Mississippi. March 9, 1865, is inscribed on her gravestone as her birthday, but she was listed as being nine years old in the census of 1870. She may have lowered her age in 1881, when she began attending Fisk Preparatory School in Nashville, Tennessee. Taken in by a Quaker brother and sister after her father's death when she was seven, Washington was educated by them, and it was they who suggested she become a teacher.
Margaret Murray became Booker T. Washington's third wife. After completing her Fisk University education in 1889, she joined the Tuskegee faculty and the next academic year became dean of the women's department. Washington, who was recently widowed and had three small children, proposed to her in 1891 and they married on October 12, 1892. Margaret Murray Washington advised her husband in his speaking and fund-raising work, and she shared his advocacy of accommodation with whites while uplifting the black race. As an educated woman, Margaret Washington believed she had a responsibility to help those of her race who had fewer opportunities. She pursued her own work at Tuskegee and was a leader in the black women's club movement.
Washington was the director of the Girls' Institute at Tuskegee, which provided courses in laundering, cooking, dressmaking, sewing, millinery, and mattress making, skills that students were to use in maintaining healthy, efficient, and gracious homes. She founded the women's club at Tuskegee for female faculty and faculty wives, which was active, especially in the temperance movement. She also worked with people in the surrounding rural area on self-improvement. By 1904 nearly three hundred women had attended her mothers' meetings each Sunday. Especially concerned about high rates of black mortality and illegitimate births, Washington instructed the women on diet and personal hygiene for better health and urged them to set good moral examples at home for both boys and girls.
These sentiments found expression in the motto of the influential National Association of Colored Women's Clubs (NACW)—"Lifting as we climb." Washington was one of the women invited by Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin to meet in Boston in July 1895 to form the National Federation of Afro-American Women. She became vice president and then, in 1896, president of the federation, which was now sixty-seven clubs strong; it joined with the Colored Women's League to form the NACW that year. In 1914 Washington was elected president of the NACW after holding numerous other offices and served two terms. She also edited the NACW's National Notes until her death.
President of the Alabama Association of Women's Clubs (AAWC) from 1919 until her death in 1925, Margaret Murray Washington led the movement to establish a boys' reform school as an alternative to prison, and later the Rescue Home for Girls, both in Mt. Meigs, Alabama. Through the AAWC she worked with the Commission on Interracial Cooperation to provide educational opportunities for blacks in Alabama. A lifelong friend of W. E. B. Du Bois, in 1920 Margaret Washington helped found the International Council of Women of the Darker Races to promote race pride through knowledge of black culture around the world.
Johns, Robert L. "Margaret Murray Washington." In Notable Black American Women, edited by Jessie Carney Smith. Detroit, Mich.: Gale, 1992.
alana j. erickson (1996)