Black History Month: Prudence Crandall, A Connecticut Connection

Prudence Crandall (September 3, 1803 – January 28, 1890)[1] was an American schoolteacher and activist who pushed for women's suffrage and the rights of African Americans in the United States.[2] Originally from Rhode Island, Crandall was raised as a Quaker in Canterbury, Connecticut,[3] and she became known for establishing an academy for the education of African-American girls and women.

In 1831, Crandall opened a private school for young white girls.[4] However, when she admitted Sarah Harris, a 17-year-old African-American female student in 1832,[3][5] she had what is considered to be the first integrated classroom in the United States.[6] After Crandall decided to admit girls of color into her school, the parents of the white children began to withdraw their support.[3] Despite the backlash she eventually received from the townspeople, she continued to educate, exclusively, young girls of color before she was forced to leave, with her husband Rev. Calvin Philleo, due to the magnitude of retaliation from the townspeople.[3] In 1886, two decades after the end of the Civil War and the abolition of slavery, Connecticut passed a resolution honoring Crandall and providing her with a pension; she died a few years later in 1890.

In response to the new school, a committee of four prominent white men in the town, Rufus Adams, Daniel Frost Jr., Andrew Harris, and Richard Fenner, attempted to convince Crandall that her school for young women of color would be detrimental to the safety of the white people in the town of Canterbury.[3][10]Frost claimed that the boarding school would encourage "social equality and intermarriage of whites and blacks."[3]

At first, citizens of Canterbury protested the school and then held town meetings "to devise and adopt such measures as would effectually avert the nuisance, or speedily abate it..."[5] The town response escalated into warnings, threats, and acts of violence against the school. Crandall was faced with great local opposition, and her detractors had no plans to back down.

On May 24, 1833, the Connecticut legislature passed the "Black Law", which prohibited a school from teaching African-American students from outside the state without the town's permission.[11] In July, Crandall was arrested and placed in the county jail for one night and released under bond to await her trial.[3]

Under the Black Law, the townspeople refused any amenities to the students or Crandall, closing their shops and meeting houses to them. Stage drivers refused to provide them with transportation, and the town doctors refused to treat them.[11] Townspeople poisoned the school's well—its only water source—with animal feces, and prevented Crandall from obtaining water from other sources.[3] Not only did Crandall and her students receive backlash, her father was insulted and threatened by the citizens of Canterbury.[3] Although she faced extreme difficulties, Crandall continued to teach the young women of color which angered the community even further.

Crandall's students also suffered. Ann Eliza Hammond, a 17-year-old student, was arrested; however, with the help of local abolitionist Samuel J. May, she was able to post bail bond. Some $10,000 was raised through collections and donations.[3]

In response to May's support of Crandall, Connecticut politician Andrew T. Judson said,

"Mr. May, we are not merely opposed to the establishment of that school in Canterbury; we mean there shall not be such a school set up anywhere in our State. The colored people can never rise from their menial condition in our country; they ought not to be permitted to rise here. They are an inferior race of beings, and never call or ought to be recognized as the equals of the whites".[12]


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Comment by Ron Powell on Monday

At my Alma Mater, Howard University, The Harriet Tubman Quadrangle-- “The Quad”-- is comprised of five halls housing approximately 640 freshman women only. Baldwin, Crandall, Frazier,Truth, and Wheatley Halls...


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