Working for Higher Education: Advancing Black Women’S Rights in the 1850s

National Council of Colored People

Created during the National Colored Convention held in Rochester, New York, the National Council of Colored People was an institutional body that met every six months to continue the work of the Colored Conventions. Similar to how U.S. senators were appointed during this time, two representatives were chosen by each state’s delegates from the delegates in attendance; however two representatives were also elected by the Black citizens of each state, so a state was represented by four people. As part of the Council, different committees were tasked with separate agendas, which they ultimately reported back to the Council. The Committee on Manual Labor School was a committee under the Council that was tasked to “procure funds and organize said School in accordance with the plans adopted by this National Convention.”[1]

The Committee on Manual Labor School was autonomous with its own by-laws though they were to report findings and plans to the Council. By late August of the same year, the Council was already deciding who would hold leadership positions.[2] Calls for meetings were also being placed throughout Frederick Douglass’ Paper.[3] By April 1854, the Committee on Manual Labor School presented a plan for an industrial school to be named “The American Industrial School” to serve students of both sexes. The Committee members proposed the site to be within one hundred miles of the town of Erie, Pennsylvania. They also discussed monetary logistics surrounding the school’s funding.[4] The Council served as a space to discuss the creation of an industrial school that was advocated for by figures like Frederick Douglass, Barbara Ann Steward, and James McCune Smith.


Newspaper Notices from Local Councils


[1] Proceedings of the Colored National Convention, Held in Rochester, July 6th, 7th, and 8th (Office of Frederick Douglass’ Paper: Rochester, NY: 1853), 18.

[2] “For Frederick Douglass Paper. National Council of Colored people,” Frederick Douglass’ Paper, 26 August 1853.

[3] “National Council of Colored People,” Frederick Douglass’ Paper, 18 November 1853.

[4] Frederick Douglass et al., “The American Industrial School Plan,” Provincial Freeman, 15 April 1854.


Written by Rosa Pleasant, History 213 taught by Sharla Fett, Occidental College, Spring 2016.