Nettie Langston Napier

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Nettie Langston Napier
Photo of Nettie Langston Napier.jpg
Nettie DeElla Langston

(1861-06-17)June 17, 1861
Oberlin, Ohio
DiedSeptember 30, 1938(1938-09-30) (aged 77)
Nashville, Tennessee
James Carroll Napier
(m. 1878)

Nettie Langston Napier (born Nettie DeElla Langston[1]) was an African-American activist for the rights of women of color during the early part of the 20th century. She lived in Nashville, Tennessee.


Nettie Langston was born June 17, 1861[2] in Oberlin, Ohio, into an upper-class family. Her father was John Mercer Langston, later the founding dean of the law school at Howard University, first president of Virginia Normal and Collegiate Institute, a historically black college, and the first black person to be elected to the United States Congress from Virginia. Her mother was Caroline Matilda (Wall), also a graduate of Oberlin. After attending Howard for a year, Nettie transferred to Oberlin College, where she studied music.

Her future husband, James Carroll Napier, was then working at the State Department and earned his law degree at Howard, where he met John Mercer Langston and his family. Napier returned to Nashville in 1872 to start a law practice. In 1878 he and Nettie married in Washington D.C., in a "predominantly white Congregational church".[1] They adopted a daughter, Carrie.

Napier became a "prominent clubwom[a]n" in Nashville, and made important social connections across the South. She was part of a "southern network" of about a dozen upper-class women, including such prominent women as Maggie L. Walker, Mary McLeod Bethune, Margaret Murray Washington, Jennie B. Moton, Charlotte Hawkins Brown, and Lucy Craft Laney.[3] She was a close friend of the educator John Hope, and was described as "the first lady of Nashville's black elite". The Napier household was known as "the undisputed center of Nashville's African American upper class".[1]

In 1907 she founded the Day Homes' Club, an organization to support African-American children in Nashville. She was involved with Fisk University, and was invited by the local Red Cross chapter to work with them during World War I.[4] She was treasurer of the National Association of Colored Women,[5] leading the organization together with Margaret Murray Washington.[4]

In 1915, during a decade when the national Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) was considering expanding its services to colored women (its facilities would be segregated), Napier attended the organization's conference in Louisville, as the representative of Nashville. She wanted to establish a YWCA in Nashville for women of color.[6]

In the 1920s, she became an Honorary Member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority.

In 1934 students of Tennessee State College's "negro history class" honored her and her husband with a pageant entitled From Africa to America.[7]

Napier died on September 30, 1938 in Nashville.[2]


  1. ^ a b c Davis, Leroy (1998). A Clashing of the Soul: John Hope and the Dilemma of African American Leadership and Black Higher Education in the Early Twentieth Century. University of Georgia Press. ISBN 9780820319872.
  2. ^ a b Taylor, Rebecca Stiles. "Nettie Langston Napier, activist and more". African American Registry. Retrieved 14 February 2019.
  3. ^ Gordon, Linda (September 1991). "Black and White Visions of Welfare: Women's Welfare Activism, 1890-1945". The Journal of American History. 78 (2): 559–590. doi:10.2307/2079534. JSTOR 2079534.
  4. ^ a b Pethel, Mary Ellen (July 2015). "Lift Every Female Voice: Education and Activism in Nashville's African American Community, 1870-1940". In Bond, Beverly Greene; Freeman, Sarah Wilkerson (eds.). Tennessee Women: Their Lives and Times--Volume 2. University of Georgia Press. pp. 239–69. ISBN 9780820347554.
  5. ^ Goodstein, Anita Shafer (1998). "A Rare Alliance: African American and White Women in the Tennessee Elections of 1919 and 1920". The Journal of Southern History. 64 (2): 219–46. doi:10.2307/2587945. JSTOR 2587945.
  6. ^ Bucy, Carole Stanford (2002). "Interracial Relations in the YWCA of Nashville: Limits and Dilemmas". Tennessee Historical Quarterly. 61 (3): 182–93. JSTOR 42627702.
  7. ^ Ingham, John N.; Feldman, Lynne B., eds. (1994). "Napier, James Carroll". African-American Business Leaders: A Biographical Dictionary. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 483–91. ISBN 9780313272530.