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Coppin, Fanny Jackson (1837–21 January 1913), educator, civic and religious leader, and feminist, was born a slave in Washington, D.C., the daughter of Lucy Jackson. Her father’s name and the details of her early childhood are unknown. However, by the time she was age ten, her aunt Sarah Orr Clark had purchased her freedom, and Jackson went to live with relatives in New Bedford, Massachusetts. By 1851 she and her relatives had moved to Newport, Rhode Island, where Jackson was employed as a domestic by ...

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Craft, Ellen (1826?–1891), abolitionist and educator, was born on a plantation in Clinton, Georgia, the daughter of Major James Smith, a wealthy cotton planter, and Maria, his slave. At the age of eleven Ellen was given by her mistress (whose “incessant cruelty” Craft was later to recall) as a wedding present to Ellen’s half sister Eliza on the young woman’s marriage to Robert Collins of Macon, Georgia. Ellen became a skilled seamstress and ladies’ maid, esteemed for her grace, intelligence, and sweetness of temper. In Macon she met another slave two years her senior, ...

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Ferguson, Katy (1779?–11 July 1854), child welfare worker and school founder, was born a slave on board a schooner en route from Virginia to New York City. Her formal name was Catherine Williams, but she was known as “Katy.” Separated from her mother at the age of eight after the woman was sold by their master, a Presbyterian elder, Katy never saw her mother again. Although she never learned to read or write, Katy was allowed to attend church services, and before she was sold, her mother taught her the Scriptures from memory. Katy was deeply religious and a strong adherent of the Presbyterian faith. At the age of ten she promised her master that she would dedicate her life to God’s service if given her freedom. This request was denied, but Katy eventually obtained her freedom; she was purchased for $200 by an abolitionist sympathizer when she was fifteen or sixteen years old. Originally she was given six years to repay this debt, but eventually her benefactor accepted eleven months of service and $100 from a New York merchant for her freedom. Thereafter, as a free woman, Katy supported herself by catering parties for wealthy white families and by cleaning linens and other delicate fabrics....

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Laney, Lucy Craft (13 April 1854–23 October 1933), educator, was born in Macon, Georgia, the daughter of David Laney and Louisa (maiden name unknown). Both parents were slaves: they belonged to different masters, but following their marriage they were permitted to live together in a home of their own. David Laney was a carpenter and often hired out by his owner, Mr. Cobbs. Louisa, purchased from a group of nomadic Indians while a small child, was a maid in the Campbell household. One of Lucy Laney’s most cherished memories was “how her father would, after a week of hard slave work, walk for over twenty miles … to be at home with his wife and children on the Sabbath” ( ...

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Barbara Bennett Peterson

Stockton, Betsey (1798–24 October 1865), educator, was born in slavery of unrecorded parentage. As a child Betsey was given by her owner, Robert Stockton, as a wedding gift to his daughter when she married Reverend Ashbel Green, the president of the College of New Jersey. Most of Betsey Stockton’s early life was passed as a slave domestic in the Green home at Princeton, except for four years that she spent with Green’s nephew Nathaniel Todd when she was an adolescent. At Todd’s she underwent a period of training intended to instill more piety in her demeanor, which had not been developed in the affectionate, indulgent Green household. Stockton returned to the Green home in 1816 and was baptized in the Presbyterian church at Princeton in 1817 or 1818, having given evidence through speech and deportment of her conversion to Christian ways. At the time of her baptism Stockton was formally emancipated from slavery, the Greens being reform-minded people who supported the abolition of slavery and believed she was prepared for freedom. Stockton became very well educated through their tutoring and the use of their enormous private library. So competent did Stockton become that the Greens finally placed her in charge of their entire household, and she remained as a paid domestic and family member....