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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Fly Girl of the Week: Charlotte Hawkins Brown (June 11,1883- January 11, 1961)



Charlotte Hawkins Brown was definitely a fly girl in her day, she was ambitious, educated and she constantly challenged the Jim Crow laws. Born on June 11,1883 in Henderson North Carolina though she grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts when her family moved in 1988. While in Cambridge, Dr. Brown attended Cambridge English High School and Salem State Normal School.


While she was a student at Salem State, Dr. Brown was offered a teaching position in the North Carolina by the American Missionary Association. Dissatisfied with the lack of educational opportunities for African Americans in the South, Hawkins accepted. The eighteen year-old returned to North Carolina in 1901 to teach rural black children at the Bethany Congregational Church in Sedalia, North Carolina. The school closed after one term, but young Dr. Brown decided to remain in the community and establish her own school.

Dr. Brown turned a pitiful church school in Sedalia, North Carolina, into the Palmer Memorial Institute founded in 1902 by much hard work and expert fundraising. Under the leadership of Charlotte Hawkins Brown, Palmer Memorial Institute became a nationally recognized and respected preparatory school for African Americans. The Institute was fully accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools at a time when few black high schools enjoyed this recognition.


During her 50-year presidency, over one thousand students graduated. They had gained not only a diploma but also a firm idea of their own individual worth. Dr. Brown had taught them well - they would be "educationally efficient, religiously sincere, and culturally secure."

Charlotte Hawkins Brown was a woman with pride in herself and her people. She had a deep belief in the American principles of freedom and justice for all human beings and she expressed this commitment eloquently. She succeeded in showing for the entire world to see "what a young black woman could do."

Dr. Brown died in 1961. Ten years and three administrations later Palmer closed its doors.
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Along with her prestigious school, Dr. Brown’s work included a charm book for young ladies and males. Her tips would put Mo'nique’s charm school to shame, The Correct Thing To Do-To Say-To Wear was published in 1941; her book was a required reading for decades at HBCU’s and in Black homes.

The Correct Thing To Do-To Say- To Wear: “At Home Tips”:

  • Don’t save your table manners until company comes. You and your family are just as good and deserve just as much consideration as any of your friends or acquaintances.

  • Be Saving. Don’t burn lights unnecessarily. Be sure that the hot water faucet is turned odd. Don’t leave the hose on too long in the back yard. Don’t drive the automobile around the corner when you can walk. Don’t turn the radio on in the morning and let it run all day. Don’t leave the outside doors wide open when the furnace is going full blast.

  • Never permit Mother or the woman at that head of the houses to make more steps than necessary to give you service. In families where there are no maids, children may easily take turns at waiting tables.


    Her twenty-four tips for “At Meal Time” included:

  • Sit with your knees together and both feet on the floor, not on the rounds of the chair to wrapped around the legs.

  • Keep elbows and arms off the table.

  • Use the knives, forks, and spoons in the order placed. When in doubt, observe the hostess.

  • All food should be put into the mouth with the right hand.

  • Eat a little less of everything than you might. Shrink from the slightest appearance of greediness.

    “The Earmarks of a Lady,” according to Dr. Brown, a lady:

  • Passes behind people.

  • Does not chew gum in public.

  • Avoids loud and boisterous laughter and conversation.

  • Is always well groomed, appropriately dressed, scrupulously dressed clean in body and attire with hair carefully arranged.

  • Does not seek dark and secluded places in which to socialize.

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    It seems that in 1941, Dr. Brown was writing the original fly girl guide!

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