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Neighborhood Union collection

 Collection — Box: 1-15
Identifier: 0000-0000-0000-0050

Scope and Content

The records of the Neighborhood Union Collection include correspondence, speeches, financial reports, minutes, committee reports, news clippings, programs, photographs, scrapbooks and additional memorbilia preserving a rich legacy and history of one of the earliest private social welfare organizations founded by African American women in Atlanta. The collection reveals much about its founder, Lugenia Burns Hope and the interrelationships of social service agencies and pioneers in this field during the 1920's and 1930. Correspondence and minutes reveal that Mrs. Hope founded this organization in her home in July 1908. The Union recived its charter in 1911.

The Neighborhood Union's plan of organization was based on a division of neighhborhoods into districts with members conducting surveys in their districts and reporting conditions which needed aid and improvement. Some aid focused on improving domestic skills, handicrafts and home nursing arts of African American women. They were also taught facts about tuberculosis and other prevalent diseases and provided supervised recreation for children.

This work during the Union's early years was performed almost exlcusively by non professional staff. The exceptions were the few founding members of the organization who were college and professional school graduates. The Collection provides much evidence of the Union's social service projects for the pre-world War I years in the form of surveys of home and school conditions conducted in what is now known as the Atlanta University Center and expanded into the surrounding communities, such as Summerhill, Pittaburgh, South Atlanta, Bellwood, Grant Park, Terminal Station (South Pryor and Central Avenue), Oakland and the area later known as Techwood.

Mrs. Hope, apparently recognizing that technical information and skills would be of great value to her co-workers, organized for September 23-26, 1919 a Social Service Institute which met on the campus of Morehouse College. This institute was repeated in succeeding years and may have been the antecedent of the Atlanta School of Social Work. The Union's records show a constant and close relationship between the two agencies which indicated by reference to the Neighborhood Union as "...a field work agency for Atlanta School of Social Work..."

The activities of the Neighborhood Union were held in homes, on the campus of Morehouse and Spelman Colleges and in the public schools of the southwest area. Although the union faced constant struggle for financial support, it was able to acquire a succession of buildings which were used as a settlement house.

Mrs. Hope's efforts brought the Neighborhood Union in contact with other social service agencies that were concerned with improving the status of African Americans. The minutes indicate that in April of 1913 "...The Sociological Congress invited the Union to be at their meeting tomorrow at the Y.M.C.A..." There was a working relationship between the Union and the Colored branch of the (Atlanta) Anti-Tuberculosis Association and the National League on Urban Conditions among negroes, later known as the Urban League.

Through Mrs. Hope's membership in the National Association of Colored women and the Young Women's Christian Association, the Neighborhhod Union was also affiliated with the Commission on Interracial Cooperation, the Carrie Steele Orphanage, the Leonard Street Orphanage, Gate City Free Kindergaten The Atlanta Community Chest and the N.A.A.C.P. Other affiliated also noted.

The Collection during the World War I period reveals another facet of Mrs. Hope's life in its account of her work at Camp Upton, New York training young women for work at the Y.M.C.A. and giving instructions to women who would assist African American troops who came to the Hostess House which was donated by the U.S. government. Reference is also made to her husband's (John Hope) overseas work with American troops. In 1927, Mrs. Hope was appointed by Secretary of the Interior, Herbert Hoover, to the Colored Advisory Commission of the Mississippi Valley Flood Relief to assist the Red Cross and advise on the relief of African Americans who were flodd victimes in Greenville, Mississippi.

In the closing years of the Neighborhood Union, it gave a portion of its land at 186 Sunset Avenue to the Fulton County Board of Health which, in return, built and staffed the Neighborhood Union Health Center.

Finally, the collection has a small quantity of letters, from Jane Adams of Hull House, Janice Porter Barrett, Mary McLeod Bethune, Eva D. Bowles, Nannie H. Burroughs, W.E.B. Dubois, Clark Foreman, Herbert Hoover, Mrs. Luke Johnson, Eugene Kinckle Jones, Mary (Jackson) McCrorey, Henry Lyman Morehouse, Robert Russa Moton, and Booker T. Washington.


  • Creation: 1908-1961


Rights Statement

All materials in this collection are either protected by copyright or are the property of the Robert W. Woodruff Library of the Atlanta University Center, Inc., and/or the copyright holder as appropriate. For more information, please contact

Biographical Sketch

Lugenia Burns Hope was born Feburary 19, 1871, to Ferdinand and Lousia M. Bertha Burns in St. Louis Missouri. The youngest of seven children, she spent her childhood in St. Louis. After the death of her father, the family moved to Chicago. There Lugenia attended the Chicago School of Design, the Chicago Business College, and the Chicago Art Institute. When the family income began to decline, Lugenia withdrew from school and worked full-time. It was from these early work experiences that Lugenia's career in social work began. The King's Daughters and the Silver Cross Club were two organizations that employed her services. Lugenia's contact with the Silver Crosss Club led to her becoming a member of the staff of Jane Adams' at Hull House. Aside from her very hectic work and volunteer scheudules, Lugenia found time to pursue a very active social life. It was during the summer of 1893 that she met the man who would later become her husband, John Hope. She and John Hope, a student at Brown University at the time of their meeting, corresponded for several years before they finally married on December 29, 1897.

Following her marriage to Dr. Hope they moved to Nashville, Tennessee, where Dr. Hope was a professor of natural sciences at Roger Williams University. Mrs. Hope became thoroughly engrossed in her new life. She taught physical education classes to the female students as well as becoming fully involved in Nashville Negro Society.

In the Fall of 1898, Dr. Hope accepted positions at Atlanta Baptist College, as a professor of Classics and Bookkeeper.

Mrs. Hope became involved almost immediately with the needs of the community, especially the children of the community. She was one of the founders of the Gate City Free Kindergarden Association. This association had as its goal the provision of day care for children of working mothers of the community.

Mrs. Hope gave birth to her first child, Edward Swain Hope, on August 28, 1901 and on December 25, 1909 John Hope II was born.

Following the birth of her first child, Mrs. Hope became increasingly concerned with the conditions around the neighborhood surrounding the Atlanta Baptist College. This concerned eventually led to the establishment of the Neighborhood Union in July of 1908. The organization was devoted to serving and improving the community. Mrs. Hope was one of the founders and first president, a position she held for many years.

The Neighborhood Organization was one of the organizations that would thrust Mrs. Hope into the forefront nationally. In addition to being an active leader in the Neighborhood Union, she was also a very active member of the Y.M.C.A. and helped to establish the first colored branch in Atlanta. She also served as the trianer for the Y.M.C.A.'s Hostess House Program during World War I. Mrs. Hope was actively involved with serveral other local and national organizations, among them the Gate City Free Kindergarten Association, The Committee on Women's Work for the Commission on Interracial Cooperation, the Urban League, N.A.A.C.P., The Atlanta Anti-Tuberculosis Association, The International Council of the Women of the Darker Races and The Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching.

Mrs. Hope was also very involved with life on the college campuses. She taught classes for several years for both Spelman and Morehouse colleges. Among the classes she taught were millinery, art, sculpture and physical education. Mrs. Hope was one of the founders and teachers of the Atlanta School of Social Work .

After the death of Dr. Hope in 1936, Mrs. Hope left Atlanta and moved to New York where her niece lived. In 1944, due to declining health, she began to divide her time between serveral residences: her niece, Emma Lewis, in Chicago, her son, John II and his family in Nashville; and her son Edward and his family, in Washington, DC. Mrs Hope died in August 1947 at the Riverside Sanitarium in Nashville. Her last wishes were that her body be cremated and her ashes scattered over the campus of Morehouse College.


9 Linear feet

Language of Materials


Related Archival Materials

The Papers of John and Lugenia Burns Hope, 1886-1947 Commission on Interracial Cooperation Papers, 1919-1944 The Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching Papers, 1930-1942

Related materials

Materials from the Neighborhood Union collection are featured in the "Women Who Changed Atlanta and the World" digital exhibit. The exhibit focuses on the work of two prominent women-led organizations, the Chautauqua Circle and the Neighborhood Union. Members of both organizations advocated for Black welfare and improvement of societal conditions in Atlanta.


By Jacqueline Anne Rouse, Ph.D. June 1995

"She was taken sick and the two men not thinking her case was serious, went each morning to their work. After a few days, some of the more thoughtful neighbors, not having seen this woman about, called and found her very ill and greatly in need of care. They did what they could for her comfort, but in a few hours she died. Deeply grieved that at their very door and under the shadow of Morehouse College, a poor woman could sicken and die probably for the want of such womanly care as the neighbors could have given had they know, the college woman said, 'this should not be, we should know our neighbors better.'" (Shivery, 43; Rouse, 65)

After learning of the above tragedy, Lugenia Burns Hope grasped the opportunity to organize her immediate environs. Believing the neighborhood suffered from the lack of neighborhood commitment, Lugenia Hope initiated the call and her community responded.

On Thursday, July 8, 1908 neighbors in the West Fair community joined Hope in her home to discuss the need for settlement work in their community. Out of these earlier meetings evolved the Neighborhood Union, a community service organization designed to be the "moral, social, intellectual, and religious uplift of the community and the neighborhood in which the organization or its branches may be established." Adopting the motto, "Thy Neighbor as Thyself," the union proclaimed its mission: to build playgrounds, clubs, neighborhood centers, to develop a spirit of comradeship among neighbors; to promote child welfare; to impart a sense of cultural heritage; to abolish slums and vice; and to improve the overall moral quality of the community.

To wit, the city was divided into zones, districts, and neighborhoods, led by zone chairpersons, district directors, and neighborhood presidents and supervised by a board of directors and a board of managers. By 1915, branches were visible throughout Atlanta.

The Neighborhood Union's rich legacy is one of civic service, community building, and racial uplift. It hosted medical fairs, bazaars, clinics, and carnivals in order to provide much needed medical attention to the Black citizens of Atlanta; it set up kindergartens and day care centers; its settlement house provided temporary shelter for homeless families; it offered classes in motherhood training, child care, and cared for the elderly, vocational training in the arts for boys and sewing and millinery for girls. It's most successful long term project was the union's quest for quality education for African American children in the city. For decades, the group petitioned Atlanta's board of education, the mayor, and the city council, asking for additional schools, the restoration of dilapidated facilities, and the elimination of double and triple sessions with an increase in the salaries of African American teachers. The union protested the lack of high school students and the lack of special education classes, vocational art classes, and literary classes beyond sixth grade. (Most of these classes had been handled by the Neighborhood Union since its inception.) Joining with the Atlanta chapter of the NAACP, a ministerial alliance, and others the union was able to work for or against the passage of school bonds in special municipal elections. However, because funds appropriated for Black schools were not always forthcoming, even after elections, the union often found itself rallying and protesting in order to ensure that African American schools actually received the funds that had been budgeted for them. The union also contributed to the opening of Booker T. Washington High School in 1924, the first high school for blacks in Atlanta.

The female members of the union viewed their organization as an experiment in community cooperation and building, designed to enhance racial pride, to promote citizenship and underpinning Black families. For more than seven decades the Neighborhood Union received very little county and city support until 1924, when the city made the union responsible for the health care of African American preschoolers. For more than fifty years the agency that was created to serve "Thy Neighbor as Thyself" did exactly that. Until its demise, the Neighborhood Union was a continuous voice of protest for social justice reform.

As African American Women's History has become a key area of concentration for scholars globally, few collections offer the researcher as much as this one does. Thus over the last two decades, the Neighborhood Union Collection has been perused by persons seeking to explore Blacks in Atlanta during the Progressive Era, Black women in the southern club movement, Black women in interracial work, the histories of Morehouse and Atlanta University, community organizing in the urban African American South, the anti lynching crusade, and the life and work of Lugenia Burns Hope.

Recent scholarship on African American southern women collectively and individually has been impacted by the use of this collection. (This could extend Women, African American, Southern, and American histories.) Researchers have discovered the interrelationship of the members of the various organizations, women who have concentrated their efforts in race/gender protest work. Local or regional leadership have often been propelled into national roles because of their success in a smaller local, i.e. Lugenia Burns Hope and the national work with the YMCA in the World War I years.

The Union's public and private correspondence acquaints us with a "Southern Network" of race women who asserted that work represented the voices of over 300,000 cohorts on issues of equality and justice. It shows how these women organized an international council of woman of color, attracting women from Japan, South Africa, Haiti, Brazil, and many other places. These biannual meetings explored imperialism, Pan Africanism, colonialism, and gender discrimination. They also supported the emerging Negro History movement of Carter G. Woodson, with the incorporation of this material into the curriculum of African American schools.

The Neighborhood Union introduced and initiated further examination of southern African American women's activism. While serving as the catalyst in documenting the exact role of southern African American women in the national movement of African American women, it also houses these women's voices in the interracial movement. These social workers, educators, and community builders groomed generations of young women and men to accept challenge of race-work--their ancestral mission.

Hence, the availability of this guide to the Neighborhood Union Collection will be a significant tool in enhancing the researchers' efforts. It will make this heavily used collection even more compelling to an upcoming generation of scholars who seek to reconstruct the tradition of race work and race/gender politics in the lives of Southern African American women.

Related Material

For additional information see the thesis by L.D. Shivery, Organized Social Work Among Negroes in Atlanta, 1890-1935.



Neighborhood Union collection, 1908-1961
Finding aid prepared by Tanya Harding and Clarence Brown, 1995 March.
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Repository Details

Part of the Robert W. Woodruff Library of the Atlanta University Center, Inc. Repository


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