A Tower of Strength in the Labor World: Domestic Worker Organizing and the National Trade School for Women and Girls


A Tower of Strength in the Labor World traces Nannie Helen Burroughs’ historic and national project of organizing Black women laborers. Burroughs, a Black clubwoman, educator, and civil rights activist, co-founded the first national domestic workers’ union; established the largest trade school for Black women; and created the first national Black women’s labor periodical in US history.

Unlike her male contemporaries A. Philip Randolph and Booker T. Washington, however,
Burroughs has not been fully recognized in public memory and academic scholarship as an
influential racial thinker and labor leader. The impact of her school on Black women and girl’s migrations during the Great Migration has also not been fully explored.

A primary aim of my book project is to initiate scholarly and public discussions about the
significant racial philosophies and labor organizing that emanated from early Black women’s institutions and organizations. I am documenting Burroughs’ philosophies and organizing by tracing the expansive and multi-scale labor project that she developed in “invisible” women’s spaces (i.e. schools and clubwomen’s organizations) to better the working conditions of Black domestic workers and their families.

I believe that Burroughs’ labor organizing history, and other similar stories nestled inside of the archives of Black women’s institutions, offer an important historical guide for women of color political organizing today. Her story also expands historical narratives about the influences of Black women’s institutions on the Great Migration.