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On this date, in 1861, Victoria Matthews was born. She was a Black educator, writer, and advocate for racial justice.
Born a slave in Fort Valley near Macon County, GA, she was the youngest of nine children. the family’s master was the father of Victoria and her sister, Anna. The light-skinned sisters were raised in his house when their mother ran away and was freed when the American Civil War began. Their mother eventually returned to Georgia, regained custody, and moved them to New York City in 1873. Matthews attended public schools in New York for a while but had to leave to work as a domestic.
She married in 1879, settling in Brooklyn, where she soon began writing for the Brooklyn Eagle and the Waverly Magazine under the pen name Victoria Earle. Matthews's writings took a deep interest in Black women’s issues. In 1893, her story, “Aunt Lindy: A Story Founded on Real Life,” was published. In 1895, she helped found the National Federation of Afro-American Women and, as its chair, the following year, help it merge with the National Colored Women’s League. A dynamic speaker, she lectured to groups on “The Awakening of the Afro-American Woman” and “The Value of Race Literature.”
The death of Matthews’ son at 16 proved to be a turning point in her life. She decided to devote her life to the social welfare of young people. On February 11, 1897, Matthews founded the White Rose Industrial Association, which established a “working girls home where newly arrived Negro girls were befriended, counseled, and prepared for employment, through courses in cooking, sewing, and housekeeping.” She even sent agents from her mission to New York City and the Norfolk, VA, docks to prevent criminals from abducting young female travelers. In 1900, the White Rose Mission, as it was commonly called, moved to larger quarters on 86th Street in New York City, where its facilities soon included a settlement house.
In 1907, a New York Age reporter described her as “a Salvation Army field officer, a College Settlement worker, a missionary, a teacher, a preacher, a Sister of Mercy, all in one, and without being the least conscious of it.” Victoria Earle Matthews died from tuberculosis on March 10, 1907.
Black Women in America a Historical Encyclopedia
Volumes 1 and 2, edited by Darlene Clark Hine
Copyright 1993, Carlson Publishing Inc., Brooklyn, New York