Climbing the Hilltop
Climbing the Hilltop
New Negro Womanhood at Howard University
By the first decade of the twentieth century, Howard University emerged as the premier institution for higher learning for African Americans. Using the life of Lucy Diggs Slowe, a Howard alumnus and the first Dean of Women at Howard, this chapter discusses the experiences of African American women at Howard during the early twentieth century to illustrate how New Negro women negotiated intra-racial gender ideologies and conventions as well as Jim Crow racial politics. Although women could attend and work at Howard, extant African American gender ideologies often limited African American women’s opportunities as students, faculty, and staff. Slowe was arguably the most vocal advocate for African American women at Howard. She demanded that African American women be prepared for the “modern world,” and that African American women be full and equal participants in public culture. Her thirty-plus years affiliation with Howard makes her an ideal subject with which to map the emergence of New Negro womanhood at this prestigious university. This chapter presents Howard as an elite and exclusive site for the actualization of New Negro womanhood while simultaneously asserting the symbolic significance of Howard University for African American women living in and moving to Washington. Although most African American women in Washington could not and did not attend or work at Howard, this institution was foundational to an emergent sense of possibility and aspiration that propelled the intellectual and cultural strivings of African American women in New Negro era Washington.
Keywords: Howard University, Lucy Diggs Slow, black feminism, higher education, historically Black colleges and universities, Mordecai Johnson, Washington, D.C, M Street High School, Mary Burrill, sexuality, gender norms, African American
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