Vintage photo of Canary Cottage

North Carolina's First State Historic Site Honoring its African American Heritage

Charlotte Hawkins Brown, Age 35, ca. 1918

"I must sing my song. There may be other songs more beautiful than mine, but I must sing the song God gave me to sing, and I must sing it until death."

- Charlotte Hawkins Brown

Founded in 1902 by Dr. Charlotte Hawkins Brown, Palmer Memorial Institute transformed the lives of more than 1,000 African American students. Today, restored campus buildings provide the setting for a unique educational experience. The museum links Dr. Brown and Palmer Institute to the larger themes of African American women, education, and social history, emphasizing the contributions made by African American citizens to education in North Carolina.

Dear Mrs. Charlotte Hawkins Brown,

I am 16 years old and live in Burlington [North Carolina]. I have heard about your school from many people. They all tell me how wonderful it is and that you really care about your students. There is no place for me to go to school here and I really do want to finish my education.

If there may be any way I could attend Palmer Memorial Institute, please let me know. I am willing to work for you to help pay for my expenses.

Thank you for your time and reading my letter.

Ruth Hall
Summer, 1928

Dr. Brown made arrangements for Ruth to attend PMI. The girl's father paid eight dollars a month, and Ruth worked in the school cafeteria to pay the rest of her tuition.

Further Reading

Charlotte Hawkins Brown and Palmer Memorial Institute: What One Young African American Woman Could Do 

"This is a well researched and carefully told story of a visionary and courageous Black woman and the important school she conceived of, built and rebuilt, defended, led, and—only when forced to—let go after it flourished for over sixty years. Young upper and middle class African Americans no longer matriculate at a place called Palmer Memorial Institute; but the ideals upon which Sister President Charlotte Hawkins Brown set that institution have a permanent place in the history of and ongoing hopes for African American education."

- Johnnetta B. Cole, president emerita, Spelman College


"An important study of Dr. Brown and Palmer Institute, illuminating academic and social life at the private black high school, particularly shared values of dignity, dissent, and uplift. A welcome contribution to North Carolina history in the age of Jim Crow."

- Raymond Gavins, Duke University

Both Charles W. Wadelington and Richard F. Knapp have been associated with the Historic Sites Division of the North Carolina Office of Archives and History. Charles Wadelington is the division's former minority interpretations specialist. Richard Knapp is its current curator of research.

Other Titles

The Correct Thing to Do, to Say, to Wear Boston: Christopher Publishing House, 1941. (Currently out of print.) by Charlotte Hawkins Brown

"What One Young African American Woman Could Do: The Story of Dr. Charlotte Hawkins Brown and the Palmer Memorial Institute." Tar Heel Junior Historian (Fall 1995) by Charles W. Wadelington

"Charlotte Eugenia Hawkins Brown"
in Notable American Women, The Modern Period: A Biographical Dictionary. Harvard University Press, 1980.
by Ruth Ann Stewart

"Charlotte Hawkins Brown" in Notable Black American Women. Gale Research Institute, 1992. by Marsha C. Vick

"Charlotte Hawkins Brown" in Encyclopedia of African American Education. Greenwood Press, 1996. by C. W. Wadelington

Charlotte Hawkins Brown: One Woman's Dream Winston-Salem, N.C.: Bandit Books, 1995 (A "creative biography") by Diane Silcox-Jarrett

Women Builders
Washington, D.C.: Associated Publishers, 1931. (Profiles of prominent African American women, including Charlotte Hawkins Brown, Mary McLeod Bethune, and Nannie Helen Burroughs) by Sadie Iola Daniel

In January 2003, Dr. Iris Chapman's creative writing class from Elon University, near Burlington, N.C., visited the Charlotte Hawkins Brown Museum. Their assignment was "to write from the landmark," producing a creative, non-fiction essay with the site as a focus point. The students also read Diane Silcox-Jarrett's book, Charlotte Hawkins Brown: One Woman's Dream, for inspiration. We share here two of those essays, and we thank Dr. Chapman for making the Charlotte Hawkins Brown site one of the landmarks used for her class assignments.

Canary Cottage - by Julia Whicker

Kimball Hall - "The Dining Experience," by Becky Peterson