Women of distinction/Chapter 85

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CHAPTER LXXXV.

AFRO-AMERICAN WOMEN AS EDUCATORS.

Yet whirl the glowing wheels once more,
And mix the bowl again;
Seethe fate! the ancient elements,
Heat, cold, wet, dry, and peace, and pain.

Let war and trade and creeds and song
Blend, ripen race on race.
The sun-burnt world a man shall breed
Of all the zones aud countless days.

No ray is dimmed, no atom worn,
My oldest force is good as new,
And the fresh rose on yonder thorn
Gives back the bending heavens in dew.

Emerson.

The possibilities and general trend of social reforms and universal advancement largely depend, as society is now constructed, upon the co-operation of the feminine with the masculine element. The truth of the statement is perhaps nowhere more forcibly illustrated than in the various departments of the educational field, where the efforts of women have not only changed the entire atmosphere of the school-room, but have also produced many other ch anodes in the right direction. "Large bodies move slowly," but one by one the States are falling in line and are employing women as teachers holding important positions, as directors, supervisors, superintendents, etc.

Woman is said to be especially strong in the details of an art. Teaching is a series of details out of which we finally develop a science—an art. This may in part explain the fact that woman is in some respects a greater success in the school-room than man, where, as in the home, she seems "to the manner born," and develops rare executive ability. Is it not possible also that it is easier for women as a class to "become as little children"? without which qualification it is difficult to enter the "kingdom of Heaven"—the hearts of the little ones.

The elements which enter into the composition of true womanhood are not restricted, and when we point with pardonable pride to the achievements of our race in comparatively few years we also feel that the noble women of the race have done their full share of this magnificent work.

As teachers they have shown that spirit of hardy endurance, combined with patient self-sacrifice, from which springs heroic deeds; and by it they have helped to lay the foundations of a harmonious race development deep and strong, upon which the youths of to-day and of succeeding generations must place the superstructure. Necessity is the mother of invention, and applying the implied principle to the urgent necessities of our case "in equity," these teachers, instinctively, as it were, early adopted the tenets of the New Education as the most rational if not a royal road to knowledge.

The industrial idea in education has received their hearty co-operation, because in it they recognize the safest method of fitting youth for practical, productive citizenship; and from the kindergarten to the university, from the normal to the industrial school, as supervisors and as specialists, they have shown an aptitude for all-round honest work bounded only by the limitations of time and space. Often, out of slender salaries, they have laid the foundation of the school library, the kindergarten, or the industrial school. In fact, they seem to have considered no sacrifice of time or money too great which would in any way benefit the ' race. Thus, spending their lives for one single and unselfish end, they have put into the work their fullest and highest personality: and upon this more depends in the development of character, which is all that counts in the long run, than upon the use of the text-book.

Within the last decade we have had a flood of talk (small and otherwise) of articles and would-be legislation upon the so-called "Negro Problem," and its presumable solution; meanwhile our worthy teachers, many of whom are women, have patiently toiled on, in season and out of season, solving a knotty point here, correcting an error there, and really accomplishing more toward the final solution of the problem than all the articles, talk and legislation combined.

At the close of a recent gathering of colored teachers in a former slave State one of the .prominent daily papers contained the following editorial:

The annual meeting of the State Colored Teachers' Association, which closed this evening, has been a most interesting event. Without personal observation it would be quite impossible to form an idea how interesting. The remarkable character of the gathering itself of two hundred colored teachers from all over the State ; the visible evidences of culture and refinement ; the excellence of the music, largely due to the development of a natural and God-given faculty ; the brightness and proficiency of the model classes taken from the colored schools of our city ; the high range of thought and knowledge covered by the speakers and essayists—all this had to be seen and heard to be appreciated.

There was something, too, _which recalled the old saying that "One half of the world does not know how the other half lives." It is certain that the majority of white citizens have little real knowledge of the high attainment reached in the art of teaching and in scholarship by those who constitute the membership of the State Colored Teachers' Association.

While the magazinists are writing, and the orators are orating, and the doctors of divinity are preaching over the "Race Problem," and even Henry Watterson is confessing that his own wisdom is inadequate and that he will be obliged to leave the matter in the hands of God, these teachers are solving it by acquiring and imparting to others that knowledge which is power and the best qualification for the lawful use of liberty.

Thus throughout the land, in the midst of unyielding obstacles, to use the words of one of our most distinguished women, "We are rising," as all who are equal to the task of rising above their prejudices are willing to admit. An estimate of the extent of tlie educational work which is being accomplished by our women can be drawn from the following statistics, issued by the Commissioner of Education for i890-'9i, of the common schools in those States containing the highest per cent, of colored teachers:

1890-'91.

States. Pupils Enrolled in the Common Schools. Teachers, Colored.
COLORED. MALE. FEMALE.
Alabama 118,712 1,496 812
Arkansas 63,830 862 270
Delaware 5,602 54 45
District of Columbia 14,147 40 225
Florida -37,342 403 282
Georgia 150,702 1,290 1,208
Kentucky 54,125 586 650
Louisiana 49,671 500 301
Maryland 34,796 217 491
Mississippi 173,378 1,835 1,377
Missouri 34,622 304 418
North Carolina 115,812 1,370 988
South Carolina 116,535 958 664
Tennessee 105,458 992 753
Texas 104,512 1,639 914
Virginia 123,579 928 1,080
West Virginia 6,428 93 91
Total 1,309,251 13,567 10,497
  • Teachers in Florida, Georgia and Missouri classified according to U. S. census.

Out of the total 24,064 teachers in the common schools of these States, as given in the preceding table, 43 per cent., in round numbers, or about one-half of the entire teaching force, are women, and then we have not taken into account the private and denominational schools, which, founded and mainly supported by missionary benevolence, have so materially contributed to the development of the South; and when we consider that the majority of the women who make up this percentage work for less wages than skilled nurses receive, and that often they walk miles, through mud, wet and cold, to buildings called school-houses that will barely afford shelter to beasts of the field; when we find them continuing in this work vear after vear more from a desire to advance the race than from any pecuniary advantage derived from teaching; when we realize that the children who sit daily under their loving and watchful care have also often walked miles with scarcely any protection from the inclemency of the weather (for we do not find the South one long summer day during the Northern winter months), and with little food to satisfy the appetite of youths, we begin to know something of the innate heroism of our race.

The Rev. A. D. Mayo, that well-known benefactor of humanity, who in discussing any phase of educational work speaks from years of experience, has recently issued a book of three hundred pages, entitled "Southern Women in the Educational Movement in the South." Referring to the education of the colored race he says:

And especially is the colored woman teacher—competent in acquirement, character, professional ability, religious consecration, womanly tact and practical, patient industry—such a benediction to her people as nobody can understand unless, like myself, he has seen year after year the development of this class of the teaching body in the border cities and through all the Southern States.

There are probably 8,000 colored women teaching school, the great majority of them in the common schools. Of course too many of

them are every way incompetent, and too few thoroughly qualified for this greatest of all sorts of American woman's work. But a larger number every 3-ear are doing better service, and a considerable class are so good that I never spend an hour in the school-room with one of them without feeling that the colored woman has a natural aptitude for teaching not yet half understood by her own people, but certain to make her a most powerful influence in the future of both races in the South. * * * Here is the providential furnishing in this native, loving kindness, unselfishness, endless patience, overflowing humor and sympathetic insight into child-nature for the office of teacher, with the added qualification of suitable education, moral stamina and the social refinements that come so easily to the colored woman.

Perhaps you ask, Cui bono? What are the results of this work on the part of our women? In reply we direct you to the Institute for Colored Youth in Philadelphia, where, for years, Mrs. Fannie Jackson Coppin, a woman known and honored on both sides of the Atlantic for nobility of character and scholarly attainments, has been the presiding genius, and where, as a result of her untiring efforts, successful preparatory, high, normal and industrial departments are conducted, the last mentioned having at least ten well-taught trades; to the Miner Normal School of Washington, D. C., which was for a long time very successfully managed by Miss Martha Briggs, and since by Miss Lucy Moten, under whose excellent guidance it has sustained its high reputation; to the Agassiz School of Cambridge, Mass., one of the best managed and equipped schools of the State, of which Miss Maria Baldwin is principal; to the many schools of the South Atlantic and South Central Divisions, and to the increasing number in all divisions of the United States, which have well-educated women of our race at the head, upon the corps of instructors, or as supervisors; to the refining influences which these women impart to the home, church and social life of the communities in which they work; and, finally, to the moral and intellectual development of character in the young people who have come under their tuition, who, in turn, have entered the various avenues of life and are there making for themselves and their race name and fame.

It has been well and wisely said that "A race no less than a nation is prosperous in proportion to the intelligence of its women." A race that can boast of a Briggs, a Coppin, a Moten, a Jones, a Baldwin, a Garnet, a Howard; of graduates of Oberlin, Ann Arbor, Wellesley and other famous institutions, at home and abroad, among its prominent educators, need have little fear of its future prosperity.

"Whatever you would have appear in a nation's life you must put into its schools," reads a Prussian motto. American civilization, with wise forethought, changes this to read, "Whatever you would have appear in a nation's life, you must teach its women." Following out this line of argument it follows that there are many ways outside of professional teaching by which women have become general educators, and our women have shown themselves to be capable of adopting all of the nineteenth century measures for the development of that which is best in humanity. The professions of law, medicine, dentistry, etc., have found in them able exponents. Among these may be mentioned Doctors McKinney of New York, Anderson of Philadelphia, Jones of St. Louis, Gray of Cincinnati.

In literature we have, among others, Mrs. Frances E. Harper, Mrs. A. J. Cooper, Miss Ida B. Wells, Mrs. Julia Ringwood Coston, editor of Ringwood’s Journal of Fashion; "Victoria Earle," Miss Lillian Lewis, a salaried writer for the Boston Herald; Miss Florence Lewis, who has won an enviable position as a journalist on some of the white periodicals of Philadelphia. In music, Mesdames Selika, Sisseretta Jones, and many other prominent queens of song. And it is not presuming too much to say that each of the fine arts is worthily represented by our women.

Sixty years ago, according to the United States Commissioner of Labor, there were but seven paying industrial occupations for, American women. Now there are three hundred and forty-six. In each of these industries colored women are gradually pushing their way to the front, and wherever they take with them intelligence and refinement they become an educational factor whose value cannot be overestimated. Scattered throughout the cities, towns and villages are numerous colored women who are conducting some prosperous business enterprise which they have undertaken voluntarily, or that has been thrust upon them by circumstance. One instance of which we have personal knowledge shows what can be accomplished under difficulties. Mrs. D—, a lady of much native genius, was born a slave and has never attended school, although by various means she has acquired a rudimentary education. Assisted by her husband she succeeded in acquiring a considerable amount of valuable property in one of the rapidly growing cities of the West. Besides rearing a large family of children this woman found time to do a great variety of church, Sunday-school and benevolent work, and was one of the founders of the Colored Orphans' Home of that city.

A few years ago the husband died; the children were leaving the "parental roof to form homes of their own; and feeling that she would soon be compelled to take entire charge of her business affairs or employ an agent, at the age of fifty-two she secured private instruction and applying herself with zeal to the intricacies of arithmetic and English prose composition is, at the time of writing, ably illustrating that "Labor conquers all things."

Every community furnishes brilliant examples of what our women accomplish in church and Sunday school work, while Mrs. Harper and Mrs. Amanda Smith have gained national reputation in a combination of temperance and evangelical work. In that urgent necessity—prison reform—Mrs. Alice Dugged Cary has made a brave struggle to better the conditions of life among the colored convicts of Georgia, and in other States women are making the convict system, with all which that system implies as now conducted, the subject of careful study and attention. Thus, in their work for the prevention and cure of intemperance, poverty and crime, our women are learning to deal with the most difficult problem which sociology affords us, and the longer they grapple with these problems the more fully is it forced upon them that the home must be the corner-stone of onr social structure, and that here—where education should and does begin, let its tendencies-be true or false, elevating or pernicious—woman's influence is the strongest for good or for evil.

As wives and mothers, as elder daughter or sister, as friend or counselor, our women have made heroic sacrifices to educate children and establish refined Christian homes—sacrifices that the world at large will never be able to appreciate—and as the great body of mothers becomes more liberally educated their work will be yet more effective. Looking around at the result of the efforts of a past generation of mothers, and bearing in mind the fearful odds against which they had to contend, it would seem that even ordinary respect for the dead demands that in some suitable place a monument shall be erected to their memory, bearing the simple inscription, "To the Noble Mothers of the Negro Race," or words to that effect, which shall properly testify to the nobility of their lives and deeds.

Home, school and society—these three act and react one upon the other in such way that whatever affects one affects the other; together, they are the triple forces which shape a race and make for its eternal weal or woe. Give us, then, in every sense of the expression, truly educated mothers, earnest educators and wise leaders of society, and not only is our race development, in a general way, secured, but also that perfection of character or broad culture, which Matthew Arnold defines as "a harmomoius perfection, developing all sides of our nature, a general perfection, developing all parts of our society."

Mrs. J. Silone-Yates.