Biographical Database of Black Woman Suffragists

Biography of Lugenia Burns Hope, 1871-1947

By Devin Ghumman, Grace Johnson, Jack Larkins, Sode Smith, students at Sacred Heart Preparatory High School, Atherton, California

Suffragist, Founder of the Neighborhood Union settlement house, Atlanta, Chair of the Department of Neighborhood Works of the National Association of Colored Women's Clubs

Lugenia Burns was born in 1871 in Saint Louis, Missouri. Her parents were Ferdinand Burns and Louisa M. Bertha. Hope grew up in a mixed race, middle-class, and deeply Christian household during the Reconstruction South. The youngest of seven children, hers was not an easy childhood. When the death of her father left her mother solely responsible for her family, they went from middle to working class. Hope was, however, able to rise above and achieve relative social mobility; she received an elite high school education through the King's Daughters Association, which exposed her to Christian Social Work Organization where she served as its first black secretary. She then attended the Chicago School of Design, the Chicago Business, and the College and the Chicago Art Institute, but was eventually forced to leave once her siblings lost their jobs and she needed to provide once again for her family.

In 1897 Hope married John Hope, a professor of Classics at Roger Williams College in Nashville, TN. The next year the couple moved to Atlanta, Georgia, when John Hope became an Assistant Professor at Atlanta Baptist College (later renamed Morehouse College). He eventually became President of Morehouse in 1906 and later of Atlanta University. Lugenia began collaborating with different organizations to assemble the Conference on the “Welfare of the Negro Child” where a nursery association was established for kindergartens of working mothers. Hope's Christian faith propelled her political activism on behalf of civil rights. In 1915 she was quoted as saying,

“The Master laid no restriction on whom the [disciples] should teach. In the universality of His golden rule his command to do to others...spanned the color line...This measure, if passed, would put Georgia in direct contradiction to the Bible. The law of Georgia would say to white men, “Teach white men only,” while the word of God would say, “Teach all men.” Ought we not to obey God rather than men?”

In 1901, Hope's personal experiences lent her greater perspective on African American mothers and children. After giving birth to her son, she recognized that few resources were available to mothers and children, and she was also impacted when a young woman died due to a lack of attention. She stated that “this should not be: we should know our neighbors better.”

As a result, Hope gathered women in Atlanta on July 8, 1908, to establish the Neighborhood Union, which was the first female social welfare agency for black families in Atlanta. The women established the organization with the goal of “moral, social, intellectual, and religious uplift of the community and the neighborhood.” Their first task was to examine the city, and they found that the streets needed repairs, there was not enough lighting, not enough sewage facilities, and inadequate water sources. So, they divided the city into four zones, which were separated into neighborhoods and overseen by various chairmen.

Hope also led the Women's Civic and Social Improvement Committee, which primarily focused on the state of public schools for African American children in Atlanta. At the time, Hope saw four main problems in their public schools: sanitary conditions, overworked teachers, feeble-minded children, and children without schools. In order to remedy these issues, the Committee presented before the Board of Education, which later created a separate committee that built a small school but largely did not fix the problems.

Hope was particularly active in interracial work with the YWCA and the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching. She was also a leader in the Atlanta chapter of the NAACP. She helped organize citizenship schools in Atlanta that set an example later followed by the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s.

Hope ended her social activism when she resigned from the Neighborhood Union in July of 1935 after serving her community for 27 years. She passed away in 1947 and is buried in Nashville, Tennessee.


Chirhart, Ann Short, and Kathleen Ann Clark, editors. Georgia Women: Their Lives and Times. University of Georgia Press, 2014,

Driskell, Jay Winston. Schooling Jim Crow: The Fight for Atlanta's Booker T. Washington High School and the Roots of Black Protest Politics. University of Virginia Press, 2014. JSTOR,

Pierson, Madeleine. “A Model for Empowerment: Lugenia Burns Hope's Community Vision through the Neighborhood Union.” Scripps College Senior Thesis. Paper 890, 2016.

Rouse, Jacqueline A. “The Legacy of Community Organizing: Lugenia Burns Hope and the Neighborhood Union.” The Journal of Negro History, vol. 69, no. 3/4, (1984), 114–33.

________, Lugenia Burns Hope: Black Southern Reformer (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1989).

_________, bio sketch for LBH, in Darlene Clark Hine, et al., eds., Black Women in America:

An Historical Encyclopedia (Brooklyn: Carlson, 1993), pp. 573-77.

“Suffragists in Georgia”

Wilson, Charles Reagan. The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture: Volume 13: Gender. Edited by Nancy Bercaw and Ted Ownby, (University of North Carolina Press, 2009).

Cooney, Jr., Robert P.J. Winning the Vote: The Triumph of the American Woman Suffrage Movement, National Women's History Project, 2005 pg. 234.

“Women Suffrage in the Southern States,” accessed online at


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