Biography of Lugenia Burns Hope

Social reformer and community activist

John and Lugenia Burns Hope with their sons, John and Edward
John and Lugenia Burns Hope with their sons, John and Edward. Atlanta University Center

Social reformer and community activist Lugenia Burns Hope worked tirelessly to create change for African-Americans in the early twentieth century. As the wife of John Hope, an educator and president of Morehouse College, Hope could have lived a comfortable life and entertained other women of her social class. Instead, Hope galvanized women in her community to improve the living conditions of African-American communities throughout Atlanta. Hope's work as an activist influenced many grassroots workers during the Civil Rights Movement.

Key Contributions

1898/9: Organizes with other women to establish daycare centers in the West Fair community.

1908: Establishes the Neighborhood Union, the first women's charity group in Atlanta.

1913: Elected chairwoman of Women's Civic and Social Improvement Committee, an organization that works to improve the education for African-American children in Atlanta.

1916: Assisted in the establishment of Atlanta's National Association of Colored Women's Clubs.

1917: Becomes director of the Young Women's Christian Association's (YWCA) hostess house program for African American soldiers.

1927: Appointed member of President Herbert Hoover's Colored Commission.

1932: Elected First Vice President of the Atlanta chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

Early Life and Education

Hope was born in St. Louis, Missouri on February 19, 1871. Hope was the youngest of seven children born to Louisa M. Bertha and Ferdinand Burns.

In the 1880s, Hope's family moved to Chicago, Illinois. Hope attended schools such as the Chicago Art Institute, the Chicago School of Design and Chicago Business College. However, while working for settlement houses such as Jane Adams' Hull House Hope began her career as a social activist and community organizer.

Marriage to John Hope

In 1893, while attending the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, she met John Hope. The couple married in 1897 and moved to Nashville, Tennessee where her husband taught at Roger Williams University. While living in Nashville, Hope renewed her interest in working with the community by teaching physical education and crafts through local organizations.

Atlanta: Grassroots Community Leader

For thirty years, Hope worked to improve the lives of African Americans in Atlanta, Georgia through her efforts as a social activist and community organizer.

Arriving in Atlanta in 1898, Hope worked with a group of women to provide services to African-American children in the West Fair neighborhood. These services included free day care centers, community centers, and recreational facilities.

Seeing the high need in many poor communities throughout Atlanta, Hope enlisted the help of Morehouse College students to interview community members concerning their needs. From these surveys, Hope realized that many African Americans not only suffered from societal racism but also a lack of medical and dental services, inadequate access to education and lived in unsanitary conditions.

By 1908, Hope established the Neighborhood Union, an organization providing educational, employment, recreational and medical services to African Americans throughout Atlanta. Also, the Neighborhood Union worked to reduce crime in African American communities in Atlanta and also spoke out against racism and Jim Crow laws.

Challenging Racism on the National Level

Hope was appointed the Special War Secretary for the YWCA's War Work Council in 1917. In this role, Hope trained hostess-house workers for the return of African-American and Jewish soldiers.

Through her involvement in the YWCA, Hope realized that African-American women were faced with significant discrimination within the organization. As a result, Hope fought for African-American leadership of branches services African-American communities in the southern states.

In 1927, Hope was appointed to the Colored Advisory Commission. In this capacity, Hope worked with the American Red Cross and discovered that African-American victims of the Great Flood of 1927 were faced with racism and discrimination during the relief efforts.

In 1932, Hope became the first vice president of the NAACP's Atlanta chapter. During her term, Hope managed the development of citizenship schools which introduced African-Americans to the importance of civic participation and the role of government.

Mary McLeod Bethune, director of the Negro Affairs for the National Youth Administration, recruited Hope to work as her assistant in 1937.


On August 14, 1947, Hope died of heart failure in Nashville, Tennessee.

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Your Citation
Lewis, Femi. "Biography of Lugenia Burns Hope." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, Lewis, Femi. (2021, February 16). Biography of Lugenia Burns Hope. Retrieved from Lewis, Femi. "Biography of Lugenia Burns Hope." ThoughtCo. (accessed April 23, 2021).