Nathalie Lord, Teacher of Booker T. Washington


         Nathalie Lord (1847-1928) as a young woman in Portland, Maine

Miss Lord and her sister, Frances, were mentioned in an earlier blog post, “New Ways with Old Photos,” that featured a turn-of-the-century picture of the Rollins community.  In that photograph, the Misses Lord stood out as looking quite somber:


Nathalie Lord, 1901-02                          Frances Lord, 1901-02

The Lord sisters worked at Rollins from 1897-98 to 1908.   Frances, a highly regarded professor of Latin from Wellesley College, came to Winter Park first.  (Sources differ on what brought her to Florida; one says that she wanted to escape the New England climate, but another claims that “her services seemed more vitally needed” at Rollins than at Wellesley).  She was then  joined by Nathalie, who served as secretary to the faculty, later becoming secretary to President William Blackman as well.  The two ladies shared a house on Interlachen Avenue, where they reportedly conversed in Latin.

The Archival files contain much more information about Prof. Frances Lord than they do about her sister.  Frances Lord had a high-profile academic career, having taught for seven years at Vassar and then for 21 years at Wellesley College, where she twice served as Acting President.  She was also the author of at least three books, including The Roman Pronunciation of Latin: Why We Use It and How to Use It (Boston: Ginn & Co., 1894).

But her sister, Nathalie, was also a teacher, and one of her former students turned out to be a pivotal figure in American history:  Booker T. Washington, who later wrote, “Whatever ability I may have as a public speaker I owe in a measure to Miss Lord.”

Nathalie Lord grew up in Maine, where her father, Charles Austin Lord, edited the Christian Mirror, a publication of the Congregational Church.  She attended Vassar College for one year (1868-69) and taught at the Hampton Institute (now Hampton University) in Virginia from 1873 to 1880.  It was there that she met Mr. Washington.

In an article she wrote for a Hampton publication, The Southern Workman, she recalled meeting “Booker, as we always called him,” at the beginning of his second year at the Institute.   “I was much interested in him from the first.  His quiet, unassuming manner, his earnestness of purpose and faithfulness greatly impressed me.  I saw in him one whom you could completely trust.  He was diligent in his business. . . and yet unselfish in his thought for others” (The Southern Workman, Vol. XXXI, May 1902).

             The beginning of Miss Lord’s article (full article available at

She described him as “glad to accept” special instruction in art and singing from teachers outside of class, in addition to his regular course work and a janitorial job he held at the school. Miss Lord wrote that he also “found time to take the necessary care of my boat and to go out rowing with me, whenever I needed help at the oars, in this way earning a few more dollars to meet his school expenses.  It was in these quiet rows on Hampton Creek that I learned something of Booker Washington’s hopes and aspirations.  To help his people was uppermost in his thoughts.  It seemed to him that they especially needed lawyers, faithful men to plead their cause when injustice was likely to be done them.  He had an unusual gift for public speaking even then, and his soul was fired with a longing to use this gift in behalf of his people.”

With this goal in mind, Miss Lord reported, he studied law with a teacher who had had legal training.   And he met with Miss Lord for elocution lessons, as he later recalled:

“I somehow always had a dream that oratory was going to be of use to me.  So for two years, I took extra lessons under the direction of our teacher of elocution, Miss Nathalie Lord. . . At first my ambition was to become a lawyer, but all the time I had an inexplainable feeling that I was going to be something else.  It was my constant contact with General Armstrong [founder of the Hampton Institute] that gradually changed my ambition and turned it in the direction of teaching my people.”  (“The Life Story of Booker T. Washington,” by G.T.B. Davis. Our Day, Vol. XVII, No. 109, May 1897).

Mr. Washington also remembered studying the Bible with Miss Lord when he was still a student (they met for 15 minutes every day to read a few verses together).  In The Story of My Life and Work, he wrote:

“Aside from Gen. Armstrong, Gen. Marshall [Hampton’s Treasurer] and Miss Mackie [the Principal], the persons who made the deepest impression upon me at Hampton were Miss Nathalie Lord and Miss Elizabeth Brewer, two teachers from New England. I am especially indebted to these two for being helped in my spiritual life and led to love and understand the Bible.  Largely by reason of their teaching, I find that a day rarely, if ever, passes when I am at home, that I do not read the Bible. Miss Lord was the teacher of reading, and she kindly consented to give me many extra lessons in elocution. These lessons I have since found most valuable to me.

Nathalie Lord also helped her former student when he returned  to Hampton as an alumnus to give a Commencement address.  The two rehearsed his speech, “The Force that Wins,” in the school’s chapel.   Miss Lord treasured her copy of that speech, describing it as one of  her “choicest possessions, albeit its pages are yellowed with age and the ribbon which holds them together has lost its early freshness.”

In 1881, when he was 25 years old, Booker T. Washington founded the Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University), modeled on the Hampton Institute.   Nathalie Lord had left the Institute the year before, but remained in touch with her former student.  Both of them would promote the ideals of the Hampton school throughout their careers.

  Booker T. Washington (1856-1915), founder of Tuskegee University, in 1911

After leaving Hampton, Miss Lord served as the first secretary of the Women’s Home Missionary Association in Boston, a position she held until 1893, when she began teaching Native American children and adults at Standing Rock Mission School in South Dakota.  She then spent ten years at Rollins, where she became active with Eatonville’s Robert Hungerford Institute (now Robert Hungerford Preparatory High School), which had been founded by Tuskegee graduate Russell C. Calhoun and his wife, Mary.

In Working with the Hands, a sequel to his autobiography, Up from Slavery, Mr. Washington mentioned Miss Lord in a chapter called, “Spreading the Tuskegee Spirit,” noting that she served as a trustee of the Hungerford Institute.  She wrote about the school several times for The Southern Workman, calling it a “grandchild” of Hampton (“A Negro Farmers’ Conference in Florida,” The Southern Workman, Vol. 35, No. 2, February 1906).  In 1912  Booker T. Washington visited the Hungerford School during his tour of Florida, an event Miss Lord wrote about as well (“Washington at the Hungerford School,” The Southern Workman, June 1912).

Frances and Nathalie Lord both left Rollins in 1908.  Prof. Lord, twelve years older than her sister, retired; but Nathalie Lord returned to teaching, spending seven years at the Calhoun School in Alabama, where many of the teachers were Hampton graduates.  We have no information on her final years before her death in Wakefield, MA, in February 1928.

The Archives holds no correspondence between Miss Lord and Mr. Washington, but a note to the Booker T. Washington Papers states that “Throughout her career she gave BTW frank and cogent advice and encouraged him to continue the Hampton approach to educational and social philosophy.”  This approach sometimes brought Mr. Washington into conflict with others, such as W.E.B. Du Bois, who questioned its effectiveness.  In 1895, Mr. Washington gave a controversial speech at an exposition in Atlanta that became known as “The Atlanta Compromise.”  In a brief recording of the first part of this speech, his famous voice–shaped in part by his former teacher–can be heard at

~ by D. Moore, Archival Specialist

To read an eyewitness’s account of “The Atlanta Compromise” speech, see For an analysis by historian Dr. John Henrik Clarke, please visit


5 thoughts on “Nathalie Lord, Teacher of Booker T. Washington

  1. Great story Darla. Do you know if these industrious and influential sisters were related to our current trustee, David Lord?

    1. Jonathan,
      I’m not aware of any connection. The Misses Lord came from a family of six sisters, so although they had at least two nieces and one nephew, none of them had the same last name as their aunts.

      FYI, the nieces attended Wellesley College, where Frances Ellen Lord taught, and one of them wrote a tribute, “Memories of My Aunt Ellen,” for the College’s alumni magazine in 1920. In this piece, niece Lucy Foxcroft wrote about staying with her aunts on visits to her grandparents’ home in Maine. She remembered how patient they were with her: “As I look back on it now, I can see that my three aunts. . .must often have wished that their married sisters could come without juvenile impedimenta. But there was no sign of it.”

      Lucy particularly remembered long and interesting conversations with her Aunt Ellen, who “listened with endless patience and courtesy to views the opposite of her own, though she was not easily convinced.” One particular conversation stood out:

      “One day several of us walked down from luncheon, arguing all the way . . . Aunt Ellen had sustained her opinion–I have entirely forgotten what it was–with more than her usual tenacity against what we thought was a pretty formidable array of authorities, and the most privileged of the group said to her, not wholly in jest, ‘Miss Lord, don’t you ever think you may be conceited?’ We waited, curious but not tense, for the answer. It came after an interval of obvious reflection: ‘No, dear; I may be opinionated, but I am not conceited.’ It was perfectly true. No one ever held more firmly to conviction–unquestionably she would have gone to the stake for it–but no one was ever freer from vanity and egotism.”

      ~ Darla

  2. Darla, I always learn something new and significant from your entries. This is the best ever! I knew nothing about the Lord sisters, and I am so proud to learn of Nathalie’s important career. How bold of President Ward to recruit her to come to Rollins. Her relationship with Eatonville and the Robert Hungerford Institute was decades before Edwin Osgood Grover met Zora Neale Hurston. Brilliant use of resources, including the BTW recording of “The Atlanta Compromise.” Thank you!

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