Lange, Mary Elizabeth
- Mary Reginald Gerdes
Lange, Mary Elizabeth (?–1883), educator and founder of both the oldest Catholic school for African Americans and the first order of African-American nuns in the United States, the Oblate Sisters of Providence., The place and date of Lange’s birth is unknown. Oral tradition says that she was born on the western part of the island of Saint Domingue (now Haiti). Born Elizabeth Lange, she was the offspring of mixed parentage and was a free mulatto. Her mother was Annette Lange; her father’s name is unknown. The revolution on the isle of Saint Domingue coupled with the Napoleonic revolution forced the emigration of many natives; both black and white refugees fled to other parts of the Western Hemisphere. Lange arrived in the United States educated, refined, and fluent in French. When she first came to the shores of Maryland, she encountered major problems. She was a free person of color in a slaveholding state and spoke French in a country whose native tongue was English. She was a black Catholic and a single woman in a foreign male-dominated society. In spite of such difficulties, by 1828 Lange had established a school for children of color in Baltimore, St. Frances Academy, still in existence....