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kid reporter wanjiku gatheru at the prudence crandall center Curator of the Prudence Crandall Museum Kazimiera Kozlowski with Kid Reporter Wanjiku Gatheru at the museum in Canterbury, Connecticut. (Photo courtesy Wanjiku Gatheru)

Prudence Crandall Educated All

A Connecticut school for girls stirs controversy in 1830s

By Wanjiku Gatheru | February 23 , 2011

Prudence Crandall opened the Canterbury Female Boarding School in Canterbury, Connecticut in the fall of 1831. Local young women, whose parents could afford the $25 per quarter tuition, could attend. But not all young women, as Crandall quickly learned.

The highly popular school was flourishing until the fall of 1832 when Crandall admitted 20-year-old Sarah Harris. Sarah hoped that by attending the Canterbury Academy she could one day herself become a teacher. Sarah's father could afford to pay her tuition.  Sarah Harris was also African American. The other students, who were white, were quickly withdrawn from the school by their parents.

Crandall then decided to reopen her school for "young Ladies and little Misses of color." Young African American students began to arrive - some from as far away as Philadelphia, Providence, and Boston.

Though attending Crandall's school was an exciting opportunity for the new pupils, it angered many local residents. The school faced dangerous and aggressive harassment over the next year. The well was poisoned and the academy was set on fire. Prudence Crandall was put on trial, but her court case was eventually dismissed and she kept on teaching the black students.

The final straw came when an angry mob attacked the school with clubs and stones on the night of September 9, 1834. For the safety of her students, her family and herself, Crandall decided to close her school. The school never reopened.

In 1995, the Connecticut General Assembly designated Prudence Crandall as the state's official heroine because she opened the first Academy for young black women in 1833. What was once the school is now operated as a Museum by the State of Connecticut.

Museum Visit

At the door of the museum, you are greeted by a friendly docent, or if you're as lucky as this Kid Reporter, by museum curator Kazimiera Kozlowski.

A highlight of the tour is seeing where the students slept, where the fire started, and where the girls hid when the mob attacked. What sends shivers up your spine is knowing that you are standing where history happened.

"I feel really fortunate and lucky to be able to be in the same place Prudence Crandall once was," said Kozlowski of her job as curator. "It's really inspiring."

The museum also displays many of Crandall's personal items, including a sampler she made when she was nine and her brother's original college diploma. The museum, and specifically Crandall's story, is an inspiration to visitors.

"What makes a hero is someone who takes the chance of losing everything to do something right," said Kozlowski of Crandall.

If you can't visit the museum, you can check out its web page on the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism website.

CELEBRATE BLACK HISTORY MONTH

For more on the achievements and contributions of African Americans to U.S. History, return to the Scholastic Kids Press Corps' Black History Month Special Report.

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