Harriet (Hattie) Gibbs Marshall


Biographical Database of Black Woman Suffragists

Biographical Sketch of Harriet (Hattie) Gibbs Marshall, 1868-1941


By Audrey Robinson-Nkongola
Assistant Professor, Western Kentucky University

Harriet (Hattie) Gibbs Marshall loved music and loved teaching it so much she founded three conservatories.

Harriet Gibbs was born in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada on February 18, 1868 to Maria (Alexander) Gibbs and Mifflin Wistar Gibbs. In 1869, Marshall’s family moved to Oberlin, Ohio. Beginning when she was six years old, Marshall attended the Oberlin public schools. At the age of nine, she began her musical education. When she entered the Conservatory of Music, she studied piano, pipe organ, and voice culture. In 1889, Marshall became the first African American to receive a diploma in music, later upgraded to a Bachelor of Music.

In 1890, Marshall began her lifelong desire to educate others in music. The Eckstein Norton University, Cane Springs, Kentucky was founded by two African American educators, Reverend William J. Simmons and Reverend C.H. Parrish. Eckstein Norton seemed to be ideal for a music program. Therefore, Marshall opened the first conservatory of music for African Americans.

In 1900, Marshall left Kentucky and moved to Washington, D.C. While in Washington, she became the Assistant Director of Music and Expression for African American public schools. She served as the assistant director until 1903. While serving as the assistant director, Marshall founded the Washington Conservatory of Music, which was later renamed as the Washington Conservatory of Music and School Expression. The Conservatory provided university-level music instruction and musical programs for the community.

During her tenure at the Conservatory, Marshall married Napoleon Bonaparte Marshall in 1906. Napoleon was a lawyer, a veteran of the First World War, and became a diplomat under President Warren G. Harding. While in Washington, D.C., she joined a major suffrage parade in March 1913 sponsored by the National American Woman Suffrage Association, as reported in The Crisis.

Harding sent Napoleon Marshall to Haiti in 1922. As a result, Harriet left the States to serve with her husband. The couple remained in Haiti until 1928, and Harriet managed to open another music conservatory, called the Jean Joseph Industrial School in Port-au-Prince. In addition, she wrote a book entitled, The Story of Haiti (1930). Although unpublished, she wrote a drama about Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, called Last Concerto.

After Napoleon died in 1933, Harriet focused her attention on the Washington Conservatory. At its peak in the 1940’s, the Conservatory had fourteen faculty members and 175 students. The school closed in 1960, the oldest institution to provide arts instruction for African Americans.

Harriet G. Marshall died in Washington, D.C. on February 25, 1941. The Marshalls are buried at Arlington National Cemetery.


Bullitt County Genealogical Society. (2015). Eckstein Norton University. Retrieved from https://bullittcountyhistory.org/bchistory/ecknorton.html.

Harriet Gibbs Marshall. Find A Grave. https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GSln=marshall&GSfn=harriet&GSiman=1&GScid=49269&GRid=49255669&.

Marshall, Harriet Gibbs(1868-1941). (n.d.). In Black Past Remembered and Reclaimed: An online reference guide to African American history. Retrieved from http://www.blackpast.org/aah/marshall-harriet-gibbs-1868-1941.

“Marshall, Harriet (Hattie) A. Gibbs.” In Notable Kentucky African Americans Database. Retrieved from http://nkaa.uky.edu/nkaa/items/show/939.

McGinty, Doris E. “The Washington Conservatory of Music and School of Expression.” The Black Perspective in Music, vol.7:1 (Spring 1979), 59-74. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/1214428.

Moorland Spingarn Research Center. (2015). Washington Conservatory of Music. Retrieved from http://dh.howard.edu/finaid_manu/221/?utm_source=dh.howard.edu%2Ffinaid_manu%2F221&utm_medium=PDF&utm_campaign=PDFCoverPages

Smith, J. C. (Eds.). (1996). “Harriet Gibbs Marshall”. Notable Black American Women: Book 2. New York. Gale Research. Retrieved from https://books.google.com/books?id=ssMBzqrUpjwC&pg=PA433&lpg=PA433&dq=Jean+Joseph+Industrial+School&source=bl&ots=gXuQndl4Zy&sig=QJfyqrbUF54VC3qoTYCpcYL4-fA&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjp3pO3r4LWAhVr4oMKHYfnA2oQ6AEITzAK#v=onepage&q=Jean%20Joseph%20Industrial%20School&f=false

“Suffrage Paraders,” The Crisis, 5:6 (April 1913), p. 296.

Related Works in DuBois Online Correspondence: 18


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