“Southland’s Mother of Charity”: Mrs. Virginia Barnes Thompson

One of New Orleans’ most highly respected women of the past is barely known at present. She was Virginia Barnes Thompson, an educator of children and a pioneer in the field of social service work.

Born in New Orleans to John and Virginia Spencer Barnes in  1877, she was educated in the city schools and at New Orleans University. Mrs.  Thompson opened a private school in Uptown New Orleans shortly after graduation and became “so obsessed with the desire to help children,” that she also founded and  supported a Juvenile Delinquent Rescue Center for the city’s thousands of black orphans and  waifs. It was known as the W. E. and Frances Roberson Home for Indigent Boys and  Girls.

For more than forty years, she was a teacher to many of the city’s most outstanding men and women and a mother to those who needed one. She was a founder of a band of women who devoted their time to working with Juvenile Court cases and along with Miss Helen Edwards, former New Orleans public school teacher, was responsible for the Sylvania Williams swimming pool. She was a leader in the Federation of Women’s Clubs, a member of the N.A.A.C.P. and many other outstanding organizations dealing with improving the lives of others.

At her retirement in May 1938, friends,  co-workers, and former pupils gathered at the Canal Branch of the YMCA to pay homage to this great lady. Speakers included Attorney A.P. Tureaud, Dr.  P. P. Creuzot, Mrs. Fannie C. Williams (Principal, Valena C. Jones School), and two of her former pupils, educator George H. Carpenter and businessman Henry Braden.

On 8 December 1939, Mrs. Thompson passed away, leaving behind a  husband, Moses P. Thompson, Sr., and one son, Moses P. Thompson Jr. One of the most touching  moments at her funeral service was a choral number sung by a group of homeless waifs Mrs. Thompson had given shelter.

Sources: The  Louisiana  Weekly, 20 May 1938,  page 3; The Chicago  Defender, 23 Dec 1939,  page 8.

10 thoughts on ““Southland’s Mother of Charity”: Mrs. Virginia Barnes Thompson

  1. This is my grandmother and my father, Moses P. Thompson Jr. was her only son who is buried here in San Francisco, California where I currently reside. I am one of two children from his first marriage to our mother, Ms. Ethel Lee Gaudin also of New Orleans. My older brother, Mr. Sidney M. Thompson also resides in San Francisco, California.

    • I am so happy that you have gotten in touch with us. I have been a great admirer of your grandmother ever since reading about her in the LA Weekly article written on her retirement. Did you know that there is a student’s thesis written in the 1930s that is centered around Virginia and her orphanage? I have read it but plan to return to Tulane University’s Archives, where it is housed, to do more extensive reading. Let me know if you are interested.

      • Dear Lolita,

        Thank you so very, very much for your response and your interest! I would really appreciate any updates and additional historical information you generate. I never met my grandmother, Virginia as she had passed before I was born in 1944, but just knowing who she was and what she accomplished from my daddy (MP) telling me stories, and passing the history down to me has given me so much inspiration and motivation in my own life.

        As a matter of fact, I even came to New Orleans in 2002 and brought 3 of my granddaughters with me. We stayed with Virginia’s youngest sister, my father’s first cousin Dorothy Barnes, who lived at 2037 Louisiana Avenue at the time. According to one of the letters she wrote, cousin Dorothy was around 89 years old then. She lived alone in that house, and had purchased for herself after her divorce, (which gave cause to her falling out with The Holy Ghost Catholic Church on the corner from her). She had worked out of a Beauty Shop in the basement of her house, until she retired, then begin renting the shop out. My granddaughters and I stayed with Cousin Dorothy a week, also visiting with my mother, Ethel Lee’s family. In particular, her uncle, Thomas Mayho, Jr. He and my mom grew up together, spending summers between Vacherie and New Orleans. Uncle Thomas was grandma Vanilla Gaudin (mom’s mother) youngest brother, and happen to live around the corner from cousin Dorothy, at 2716 Saratoga Street, just 5 blocks away.

        Cousin Dorothy didn’t get out much, so the kids and I went sight seeing, dinning and bought souvenirs But in the evenings, we would sit on the front porch and she would share stories with me while she drank her dark beer, said “Hey” to neighbors, and nodded at passers by! It was a rich experience for me and I loved her dearly. She and my mom had remained friends over the years, wrote to each other and exchanged calls and Christmas greetings until my mom passed in 1995. I first met Dorothy when she came to San Francisco, back in the 70’s and the three of us went to lunch at Alitoto’s or the Grotto, at The Wharf. I lost Cousin Dorothy shortly after Hurricane Katrina! My cousin Lester Mayho, uncle Thomas youngest son of Slidell, LA would drive by her house trying to locate her for me, I was so worried! He finally found out from neighbors she had been taken to a convalescent home where she had passed.

        I never got to say goodbye, but hope to find and visit her last resting place and that of my grandmother Virginia. I do not know any other Barns or Thompson family in New Orleans, but did find a 3rd cousin in NY via facebook. Last Friday, Jan. 24 while visiting my youngest daughter, she google “Virginia Barnes Thompson” and found your website and grandmothers story! God is so good! I am so excited! hope to hear from you soon.

        Be blessed!

        Ms. Silk Thompson Gaudin (not hyphenated)

        • Hi,
          My grandmother was Aunt Ginny’s (what my grandmother always called her) baby sister. Dorothy was the daughter of Uncle Horace Barnes, Aunt Ginny’s brother. I remember your father because he used to visit my grandmother and mother. My mother’s brother has visited your father and I had been trying to contact you guys without any success for a long time.

          Hope to hear from you,
          Sharon Hyde Augillard

          • Hi Sharon,

            I’ve left several messages and text over the past couple of weeks to let you know we’re planning a trip in June!

            I pray all is well with you and your spouse since last we spoke! The Fellowship was a winfall, so we’ll just need a car. Give me a call so I can bring you up to speed on details.


            Cuz Silk

      • Hi Cousin Zoe,
        We (my son Jason, his daughter Lucinda, and my niece Maurisa) visited NOLA this usmmer, June 14-23, 2016. Maurisa (a Teacher herself) got her Masters in Fine Art from UC at Riverside. She had won 3rd Place in a competition that covered accommodations, and the foe of us were able to visit for a week. I was able to hook up with family of the Mayho’s, the Gaudin’s (my mom’s relatives) and Barnes (GrandMa Virginia and my Father- MP Thompson’) family. I Also met Ms. Lolitta Cherie, to whom I am indebted, and eternally grateful along with Jari Honora of Creolegen.org. My niece and I also visited Tolane University Library, Amistad Research Center, etc. and had good success with information gathering.

        Tuesday, Sept. 6, I will return to Rosa Parks Elementary and begin my 5th year as Mentor/Tutor Volunteer to 2nd Grade Students. Over the years, my dad’s stories, and conversations centered on accomplishments of Virginia Barnes Thompson, through her staunch determination, focus on service, moral commitment to elevate the standards of black youth, remains an inspiration to me. The more I learn of her achievements, the stronger my motivation to honor her. Perhaps we’ll meet the next visit. God’s Grace! I wish you well.

  2. this is for Lolita you promised to let me know what or where is Shirley Antoinette Randolph? let me know. thanks mclane

    • To: McLane Haddocks,
      As of this morning I have spoken with Shirley Randolph’s daughter. She and her mother are in Georgia. I have given them your email address and they will probably be contacting you soon…..Lolita

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