The National Training School for Women and Girls was founded by Nannie Helen Burroughs (1879-1961), a leader in education, women's rights, civil rights, and religion. Burroughs was born in Virginia, but soon moved with her mother, Jennie, to Washington to take advantage of its excellent schools and better job opportunities. Burroughs graduated from the Preparatory High School for Colored Youth, where her mentors included Anna Julia Cooper and Mary Church Terrell.
In 1909 Burroughs founded the National Training School for Women and Girls as a boarding school. The school opened with 35 students. Burroughs stressed the three B's—Bible, bath, and broom. Students were trained in domestic science, business and sewing, printing, barbering, and shoe repair. The school was independent; most of its funding came from individual and organizational contributions. The school also sustained itself through the operation of a laundry, the sale of student-made goods, and a summer school for women. Students were also required to take a Negro history class, using books owned by Burroughs's close colleague Carter G. Woodson.
Burroughs also worked to assist women seeking employment. In 1920 she founded the National Association of Wage Earners, focusing particularly on improving wages and working conditions for domestic workers.
Burroughs became a leader in the National Baptist Convention and the women's and civil rights movements. She was a prolific writer, often extolling racial self-help and personal self-reliance. She was a popular and stirring orator with a national following. Her funeral, held at the Nineteenth Street Baptist Church, was attended by more than 5,500 people.
In 1964 the Training School was renamed the Nannie Helen Burroughs School and began operating as an elementary school. The headquarters of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, the school's owner, are on the grounds. The school was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1991.