Victoria E. Matthews

Victoria E. Matthews

In 1861, Victoria Matthews was born. She was an African-American educator, writer, and racial advocate.  Born a slave in Fort Valley near Macon County, Georgia she was the youngest of nine children. Victoria’s father, and that of her sister Anna as well, was also the family’s Master; the light-skinned sisters were raised in his house when their mother ran away and freed when the Civil War began.

Their mother eventually came back to Georgia, regained custody and moved them to New York City in 1873. Victoria attended public school in New York for a while but had to leave to work as a domestic.

She married in 1879, settling in Brooklyn where she soon began writing for the Brooklyn Eagle and the Waverly Magazine under the pen name Victoria Earle. In 1893 her story Aunt Lindy: A Story Founded on Real Life was published. Matthews took a deep interest in Black women’s issues. 

In 1895 she helped found the National Federation of Afro-American Women and as its chair, the following year help it merge with the National Colored Women’s League. A dynamic speaker, she lectured to groups on “The Awakening of the Afro-American Woman” and “The Value of Race Literature.” The death of Matthews’ son at the age of sixteen proved to be a turning point in her life.

She decided to devote her life to the social welfare of young people. On February 11th 1897, Matthews founded the White Rose Industrial Association, which established “a working girls home where newly arrived Negro girls were befriended, counseled, and prepared for employment, through courses in cooking, sewing, and housekeeping.” She even sent agents from her mission to New York City and Norfolk, VA docks to prevent criminals from abducting young female travelers. In 1900, the White Rose Mission, as it was commonly called, moved to larger quarters on eighty-sixth street in New York City where its facilities soon included a settlement house.

In 1907 a New York Age reporter described her as “a Salvation Army field officer, a College Settlement worker, a missionary, a teacher, a preacher, a Sister of Mercy, all in one, and without being the least conscious of it.” Victoria Earle Matthews died from tuberculosis on March 10, 1907.