Charlotte Hawkins Brown

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Charlotte Hawkins Brown
Charlotte Hawkins Brown in wedding dress, 1912
Born (1883-06-11)June 11, 1883
Henderson, North Carolina
Died January 11, 1961(1961-01-11) (aged 77)
Greensboro, North Carolina
Occupation Founder of the Palmer Institute

Charlotte Hawkins Brown (June 11, 1883 – January 11, 1961) was an American author and educator, founder of the Palmer Memorial Institute in North Carolina.

Early life[edit]

Brown was born in Henderson, North Carolina on June 11, 1883, but moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts at a very early age.[1] When she was a high school senior, Brown had a chance meeting with the prominent educator Alice Freeman Palmer, who was impressed to find the young woman reading Virgil while pushing the stroller of a child she was babysitting. Palmer would play a profound role in Brown's life, first by paying for her college education at the State Normal School at Salem, Massachusetts, and then by encouraging Brown to return to her native North Carolina to help improve education for African Americans.[2]


After a year of college, Brown was hired to work at the Bethany Institute, a small school in run by the American Missionary Association.[3]

When the American Missionary Association decided to close the school a year later, Brown decided to create a school on her own, which would include elements of industrial training combined with a standard curriculum. She returned to Massachusetts where, through connections provided by Palmer, she met with prominent figures at Harvard and elsewhere from whom she sought to raise money for her effort. She successfully obtained enough money to keep the school running for another year.[4]

The new school started small, in an old log cabin with just two teachers and few students. Brown continued to raising money, eventually securing enough to erect a new building, which was completed in 1905. The school was named the Palmer Memorial Institute in honor of Alice Freeman Palmer.[5] While the school grew, it continued to attract attention and money from Boston-area philanthropists. A "Sedalia Club" was organized in Brookline, Massachusetts in 1914, and in the prominent financier and philanthropist Galen L. Stone learned of her work and became the Institute's most important benefactor. Stone and his wife would eventually give more than $100,000 to the Institute.[6] In 1911, Charlotte Hawkins married Edward S. Brown.

By the 1920s, the Palmer Memorial Institute was an established and successful boarding school attracting students from around the country, many of whom went on to become educators. Brown attracted national attention for her efforts, lecturing frequently at colleges around the country and receiving several honorary degrees. In 1941 she published The Correct Thing To Do--To Say--To Wear, committing many of her educational philosophies and maxims in print.[7] She continued to run the school until her retirement in 1952.[8]

In addition to her work at the Palmer Institute, Brown was active in national efforts to improve opportunities for African Americans, including the Southern Commission for Interracial Cooperation and the Negro Business League. She was the first African American woman named to the national board of the YWCA. She was an honorary member of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority.


Brown's papers are at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard.

The restored campus buildings of the Palmer Memorial Institute are now the Charlotte Hawkins Brown Museum, that links Brown and Palmer Memorial Institute to the larger themes of African American women, education, and social history, with an emphasis on the contributions made by African American citizens to education in North Carolina. The museum's visitor center is located in the Carrie M. Stone Teachers' Cottage (1948), and features exhibits about Brown, the Institute and African American education in North Carolina. There is also a video about the school. Visitors can tour Brown's residence, known as Canary Cottage, which has been furnished to reflect the 1940s and 1950s, when the school was at its peak. Several dormitories, the dining hall, bell tower, teahouse and several teachers' cottages can also be seen.


  1. ^ "The Early Life of Miss Charlotte Hawkins". Charlotte Hawkins Brown Museum, North Carolina Historic Sites. Retrieved 14 April 2013. 
  2. ^ Burns, A. M., III. "Brown, Charlotte Hawkins". Dictionary of North Carolina Biography / NCpedia. Retrieved 14 April 2013. 
  3. ^ "What One Young African American Woman Could Do: The Story of Dr. Charlotte Hawkins Brown and the Palmer Memorial Institute". North Carolina Historic Sites / Charlotte Hawkins Brown Museum. Retrieved 14 April 2013. 
  4. ^ Burns, A. M., III. "Brown, Charlotte Hawkins". Dictionary of North Carolina Biography / NCpedia. Retrieved 14 April 2013. 
  5. ^ Daniel, Sadie Iola. "The Birth and Growth of the Palmer Memorial Institute". Women Builders. Retrieved 14 April 2013. 
  6. ^ Burns, A. M., III. "Brown, Charlotte Hawkins". Dictionary of North Carolina Biography / NCpedia. Retrieved 14 April 2013. 
  7. ^ Brown, Charlotte Hawkins (1941). The Correct Thing To Do--To Say--To Wear. Boston: Christopher Pub. House. 
  8. ^ Burns, A. M., III. "Brown, Charlotte Hawkins". Dictionary of North Carolina Biography / NCpedia. Retrieved 14 April 2013. 

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