Tuesday, June 28, 2011

White Rose Home for Colored Working Girls (White Rose Mission)

262 West 136th Street today
White Rose Home for Colored Working Girls (White Rose Mission)

Location: 262 West 136th Street, New York, New York, USA, after previously being located at 217 East 86th Street

Founded: Organized in 1900, by Mrs. Victoria Earle Mathews

Closed: ?

Mrs. Victoria Earle Mathews (1861-1907), along with other prominent black women in New York City such as Alice Dunbar Nelson, formed the White Rose Industrial Association in 1897. The White Rose Home for Colored Working Girls (also known as the White Rose Mission) came into being three years later, in 1900. The White Rose Mission was part of a larger movement of black club women who were devoted to education and social uplift in the black community. The focus of the White Rose home was to provide counsel, job training skills, education, and decent affordable shelter to young black working women, who were often trapped in prostitution or in poorly paid domestic servitude. (As of 1902, the White Rose charged just 50 cents a week--considerably less than the rents in Harlem at the time.)

Victoria Mathews was an energetic and courageous woman who was born into slavery. Her mother was forced to leave Victoria during those years, but miraculously, she was able to claim legal custody of Victoria and her sister after the Civil War. The family moved to New York City about 1873. After an unhappy marriage, Victoria turned to writing and then to organizing and club work. In 1892, she became the first president of the Woman's Loyal Union of New York. The WLU was more than just a Negro women's club. It was a civil rights organization in its own right, which attacked all forms of racial discrimination and supported journalist Ida B. Wells’ anti-lynching crusade. Three years later in 1895, Victoria Mathews, along with Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin, founded the National Federation of Afro-American Women. One year later, under Mrs. Mathews' leadership, that organization merged with the National Colored Women's League to become the National Association of Colored Women. She served as a national organizer with the Association for two years (1897-1899). It was at this point that her interests started to shift:
Victoria Earle Mathews

Mrs. Mathews had long felt a concern for Negro girls who were being drawn into prostitution through ignorance and inexperience. The death of her son at the age of sixteen intensified an already strong impulse toward social welfare work among young people. Early in 1896, after participating in the Congress of Colored Women of the United States at the Atlanta exposition the preceding December, Victoria Mathews toured the South, travelling as far as New Orleans, to investigate red-light districts and the spurious "employment agencies" that were victimizing young colored girls seeking work in the North. In February 1897, she founded the White Rose Industrial Association, which opened a working girls' home where newly arrived Negro girls were befriended, counseled, and prepared for employment through courses in cooking, sewing, and housekeeping.

But it wasn't long before White Rose took on a more aggressive, advocacy role:

Soon White Rose agents were stationed at the piers in New York and Norfolk, Va., to make sure that youthful female travellers did not fall into the hands of unscrupulous men. Originally located in a flat provided rent-free by the building's owner, the White Rose Mission, as it was commonly known, moved in 1900, with the aid of white benefactors, to larger quarters on 86th Street. Under Mrs. Mathews' leadership, it took on aspects of a settlement house, with mothers' clubs, recreational activities, and a kindergarten. She herself taught a class in Negro history and established a large library of books by and about Negroes.

Hubert Henry Harrison (1883-1917), who would later become a prominent leader in Harlem's New Negro movement, also contributed to the intellectual environment at White Rose. Harrison developed a race history class and a literary club at the White Rose Home for Colored Working Girls, which was, we're told, the only exclusively colored settlement in New York at the time. 

In 1918, the White Rose Mission moved to its final location on 136th Street. It was still there as of 1921, according to a listing in the Brooklyn Eagle (at that time, they claimed 2,220 had been "cared for" at the Home).  It was still there as of 1922. And then I'm unable to find out what happened to it. Now days, the structure at 262 West 136th Street is a residential duplex.

Photos: 262 West 136th Street today and Mrs. Victoria Earle Mathews


  1. I have scattered references to the White Rose Industrial Association in the N Y Age up to 1938. I am working on a site which has pages on a woman who was president of the association in the mid-1920s.
    Joy Lumsden

  2. I have an aunt who was a resident there about 69 years ago. She still lives in NY today.


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