Black Quotidian: Everyday History in African-American Newspapers

March 6, 1915

On March 6, 1915, the Chicago Defender mourned the death of Amanda Smith. “Gone, but never to be forgotten, the greatest woman that this race has ever given the world,” Frank A. Young wrote. Young described how Amanda Smith was born a slave in Long Green, Maryland, but later “traveled through England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, India, Japan and Africa, preaching the gospel and temperance.” Young continued, “The proceeds of her travel, which she saved, amounted to $10,000. She returned to Chicago and gave her life as well as her savings to bless the little ones who were motherless and fatherless in founding what is now known as the Amanda Smith Orphan Home at Harvey, Ill. This left her penniless.” Ferdinand Barnett, Ida B. Wells-Barnett’s husband, delivered the eulogy at the funeral. “He paid one of the most glowing tributes that was ever paid to anyone,” Young wrote. “The saddest part was when the little ones who had know her as their mother sang the song that had consoled her so often. Her remains were interred at Harvey, just within the shadows of the home she founded” (click to view PDF).

I learned about Amanda Smith by reading Marcia Chatelain’s excellent book, South Side Girls: Growing Up in the Great Migration. As Chatlelain writes,

The Amanda Smith Industrial School of Colored Girls...triggered heated debates about what blacks girls needed, due to their status as orphans, dependents, or delinquents; their institutional care; and the purpose of urban industrial education. Community leaders determined that if the school’s girls received loving care at the boarding schools, a solid domestic education, and avenues for employment after graduation, they would be poised to become race mothers, who would transform black families and futures. The school's strong sense of mission and benevolent leaders could not shield it from a range of problems,  from financial insolvency to conflicts among its benefactors—African American clubwomen and white philanthropists. The two factions held different perspectives on racial integration of girls’ institutions, the fitness of African Americans to lead outreach initiatives, and the potential threat black girls posed to their white peers. Their racial and ideological divides fueled tensions surrounding the question of who knew what was best for African American girls. The battles were as much about the meaning of black girlhood as about the fates of dependent, delinquent, and destitute girls themselves.

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