Victoria Earle Matthews

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NYPL: psnypl_scg_385
Portrait Collection




Joseph Fischl


Photographs and Prints Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations
Victoria Earle Matthews was born a slave, the child of a Georgia slaveholder and one of his female slaves. Her mother escaped north during the Civil War, returning after emancipation to claim her children. By 1873 the family had settled in New York where Matthews attended grammar school before family finances obliged her to go to work. Engaged as a servant in a white household, she was given free access to her employers’ library, beginning a lifelong career of self-improvement.

Matthews devoted herself to settlement activities among poverty stricken black New Yorkers similar to Jane Addams’ work with immigrant families in Chicago. She taught black women how to keep house and established a center to train black girls in domestic work. In 1897, she founded the White Rose Mission to rescue black women recently arrived from the South from the lures of urban life, especially seduction and prostitution.

Matthews was the driving force behind the 1892 creation of the Woman’s Loyal Union, a club for black women. She was also instrumental in founding the black women's club magazine, Woman’s Era, a couple of years later. In its first year, Matthews was president of the Woman’s Loyal Union, while Sarah Garnet and Maritcha Lyons were first and second vice-president respectively.

Following the example set by Ida B. Wells in her antilynching campaign, the Woman's Loyal Union took as its mission the gathering of accurate information about black Americans which they then planned to distribute to both blacks and whites. its members devised a questionnaire to send to black ministers, school teachers, and other public minded leaders asking them to help compile accurate statistics about blacks natonwide, investigate charges of black immorality in the South, and correct existing misperceptions. The women also wrote leaflets on such topics as “Parents and Guardians” and the “Sanctity of Home” to circulate among the masses, hoping that a wider print distribution would be more effective than lecturing to small audiences.


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Joseph Fischl, “Victoria Earle Matthews,” Black Gotham Archive, accessed July 10, 2018,