Hallie Quinn Brown
By Rosalie Yoakam
Hallie Q. Brown, a child of former slaves, became a professor of elocution and a world renowned lecturer who gave voice to scores of disenfranchised people.
Born on March 10, 1850 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Brown was the fifth of six children of Thomas and Frances Brown. Thomas had purchased his freedom from his Scottish mother and Frances was freed by her maternal grandfather.
During Hallie’s childhood Thomas worked as a steward and express agent for riverboats. The family owned much real estate and was active in social causes. Their house was a station on the Underground Railroad and they provided space for visiting ministers of the African Methodist Episcopal church. These early experiences instilled in Hallie a respect for education and human rights.
Shortly before the Civil War ended the Brown family moved to a farm near Chatham, Ontario, Canada. There, teenaged Hallie practiced giving speeches by standing on a tree stump and addressing the farm animals.
When Hallie was twenty, the Brown family moved to Wilberforce, Ohio. There she and her brother attended Wilberforce University. She received a Bachelors degree from the university in 1873.
Upon graduation she taught, during the Reconstruction era, in plantation schools in Mississippi and South Carolina. She then worked as dean of Allen University in Columbia before returning to Dayton where she taught public school from 1887-1891. At this time she also taught night school for adult migrants.
After her Dayton career, Brown was a principal at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama for a year where she worked with Booker T. Washington. Next, she was offered the post of professor of elocution at Wilberforce University. But, before she assumed the position, she decided to travel and lecture.
Chautauqua schools were popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The schools combined education with entertainment using lectures, concerts, and plays and were often given outdoors or in tents. Brown had attended a Chautauqua Lecture School.
Following this training Brown began to travel widely as a lecturer and elocutionist. She traveled to every state in the United States except two; Vermont and Maine. In 1894 she went to Europe and stayed for five years performing in numerous European countries. In England she appeared before Queen Victoria on two occasions.
Her program was diverse consisting of 90 memorized pieces and varied in content from Shakespeare to Mark Twain. She was especially skillful in presenting the poetry of Paul Lawrence Dunbar.
The African Methodist Episcopal Church Review said of her: “Miss Brown possesses a voice of wonderful magnetism and great compass. At times, she thrills by its intensity; at times, it is mellow and soothing. She seems to have perfect control of the muscles of her throat, and can vary her voice as successfully as a mocking-bird.”
My next column will recount the political and social activism of this dynamic woman.