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Prudence Crandall

Prudence Crandall

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Prudence Crandall a schoolteacher raised as a Quaker
Religious Society of Friends
The Religious Society of Friends, or Friends Church, is a Christian movement which stresses the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers. Members are known as Friends, or popularly as Quakers. It is made of independent organisations, which have split from one another due to doctrinal differences...

, stirred controversy with her education
Education in its broadest, general sense is the means through which the aims and habits of a group of people lives on from one generation to the next. Generally, it occurs through any experience that has a formative effect on the way one thinks, feels, or acts...

 of African-American girls in Canterbury
Canterbury, Connecticut
Canterbury is a town in Windham County, Connecticut, United States. The population was 4,692 at the 2000 census.-History:The area was first settled in the 1680s as Peagscomsuck, consisting mainly of land north of Norwich, south of New Roxbury, Massachusetts and west of the Quinebaug River and the...

, Connecticut
Connecticut is a state in the New England region of the northeastern United States. It is bordered by Rhode Island to the east, Massachusetts to the north, and the state of New York to the west and the south .Connecticut is named for the Connecticut River, the major U.S. river that approximately...

. Her private school, opened in the fall of 1831, was boycotted when she admitted a 17-year-old African-American female student in the autumn of 1833; resulting in what is widely regarded as the first integrated classroom in the United States.

She is Connecticut's official State Heroine.

Early life

Prudence Crandall was born on September 3, 1803 to Pardon and Esther Carpenter Crandall, a Quaker couple in the Hope Valley
Hope Valley, Rhode Island
Hope Valley is a village and census-designated place in the town of Hopkinton in Washington County, Rhode Island, United States. The population of the CDP was 1,649 at the 2000 census...

 area in the town of Hopkinton, Rhode Island
Hopkinton, Rhode Island
Hopkinton is a town in Washington County, Rhode Island, United States. The population was 8,188 at the 2010 census.The villages of Ashaway and Hope Valley are located in Hopkinton.-Geography:Hopkinton is found at 41.461 N latitude and 71.778 W longitude...

. At the age of 17, her father decided to move the family to the small town of Canterbury, Connecticut. She attended the Friends' Boarding School in Providence, Rhode Island
Providence, Rhode Island
Providence is the capital and most populous city of Rhode Island and was one of the first cities established in the United States. Located in Providence County, it is the third largest city in the New England region...

  and later taught in a school for girls in Canterbury. In 1831, she returned to run the newly established Canterbury Female Boarding School, which she purchased with her sister, Almira.

Integration of the boarding school

In the fall of 1832, a young woman by the name of Sarah Harris, the daughter of a free African American
African American
African Americans are citizens or residents of the United States who have at least partial ancestry from any of the native populations of Sub-Saharan Africa and are the direct descendants of enslaved Africans within the boundaries of the present United States...

 farmer in the local community, asked to be accepted to the school in order to prepare for teaching other African Americans. Her father owned a small farm near Canterbury, and Harris even attended the same district school as the white girls who were attending Crandall's school as teenagers. Clearly, the only difference between Harris and the other white pupils was their skin color.

Although she was uncertain of the repercussions that this would cause, Crandall eventually allowed Harris to join her school. Following her admission, many prominent townspeople objected and pressured to have Harris dismissed from the school, but Crandall refused. Families of the current students removed their daughters.

Consequently, Crandall ceased teaching white girls altogether and open up her school strictly to African American girls. Crandall temporarily closed the school and began openly recruiting students on March 2, 1833, when William Lloyd Garrison
William Lloyd Garrison
William Lloyd Garrison was a prominent American abolitionist, journalist, and social reformer. He is best known as the editor of the abolitionist newspaper The Liberator, and as one of the founders of the American Anti-Slavery Society, he promoted "immediate emancipation" of slaves in the United...

, a supporter of the school, placed advertisements for new pupils in his newspaper The Liberator. Her advertisement announced that on the first Monday of April 1833 she would open a school “for the reception of young ladies and little misses of color, ... Terms, $25 per quarter, one half paid in advance.” In the list of references were the names of Arthur Tappan
Arthur Tappan
Arthur Tappan was an American abolitionist. He was the brother of Senator Benjamin Tappan, and abolitionist Lewis Tappan.-Biography:...

, Samuel J. May, William Lloyd Garrison, and Arnold Buffum.

As word of the school passed up and down the Atlantic Seaboard, African American families began sending their daughters from out of state to the school. On April 1, 1833, twenty African-American girls from Boston, Providence, New York, Philadelphia, and surrounding areas in Connecticut arrived at Miss Crandall's School for Young Ladies and Little Misses of Color.

The new school

With the school now open, Crandall was teaching a variety of subjects including reading, writing, arithmetic, English grammar, geography, history, natural and moral philosophy, chemistry, astronomy, drawing and painting, music and the piano, and even the French language. The students were required to pay $25 per quarter, paying half of that sum in advance. This money covered tuition, board, and washing, while books and stationery were purchased and provided to the girls at a discounted price. Crandall's excitement and sense of accomplishment at running a school to help young black women was short-lived because of the immediate ostracism and criticism she faced from her community, and even the state.

Public backlash

Citizens of Canterbury at first protested the school and then held town meetings "to devise and adopt such measures as would effectually avert the nuisance, or speedily abate it..." Unable to shake Ms. Crandall's spirit, the town response escalated into warnings, threats,and acts of violence against the school. Crandall was faced with great local opposition and they had no plans to back down.

On May 24, 1833 the Connecticut Legislature passed "The Black Law" prohibiting such a school with African American students from outside the state without the town's permission. In July, Crandall was arrested and placed in the county jail for one night and then released under bond to await her trials.

Under Black Law, the townspeople refused any amenities to the students or Crandall, closing their shops and meeting houses to them. Stage drivers also refused to provide them with transportation and even the town doctors would not attend to their needs. To make matters worse, the townspeople also poisoned the school's well—its only water source—with animal feces and then prevented Crandall from obtaining any water from other sources. It was difficult for Crandall to run her school when she had no resources to keep it standing. But she continued to teach the young women angering the community even further.

Crandall's students also suffered from the injustices of their environment. One 17-year-old student, Anna Eliza Hammond, was even arrested at one point; however, with the help of New York abolitionist Samuel May, she was able to post bail bonds with through collections and donations of $10,000.

In response to a local reverend's support of Crandall, lauded Connecticut politician Andrew T. Judson, stated that,"...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."

Judicial proceedings

At word of Crandall's trials, a prominent abolitionist, Arthur Tappan
Arthur Tappan
Arthur Tappan was an American abolitionist. He was the brother of Senator Benjamin Tappan, and abolitionist Lewis Tappan.-Biography:...

 of New York, donated $10,000 to hire the ablest lawyers to defend Crandall throughout her trials, the first of which opened at the Windham County Court on August 23, 1833. Constitutionality of the Connecticut law regarding the education of African Americans was the driving force of the cases.

The defense argued that African Americans were citizens in other states, so therefore there was no reason why they should not be considered as such in Connecticut. Thus, they focused on the deprivation of their rights under the United States Constitution
United States Constitution
The Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the United States of America. It is the framework for the organization of the United States government and for the relationship of the federal government with the states, citizens, and all people within the United States.The first three...

. In contrast, the prosecution denied the fact that freed African-Americans were citizens in any state, and the county court jury ultimately failed to reach a decision for the cases.

Although a second trial in Superior Court decided against the school, the case was taken to the Supreme Court of Errors on appeal in July of 1834. At the conclusion of this appeal, the Supreme Court of Connecticut reversed the decision of the lower court, dismissing the case on July 22 on the grounds of a lack of evidence.

The judicial process had not stopped the operation of the Canterbury school, but the townspeople's violence against it increased. The windows were smashed with heavy iron bars as the vandalism continued. The public was so angry at the dismissal of the case that on September 9, the school was set on fire. For the safety of her students, her family and her self, Prudence Crandall decided to close her school on September 10, 1834.

Later years

In August of the same year the school closed, Prudence Crandall married the Rev. Calvin Phileo. Mr. and Mrs. Philleo moved out of state to Massachusetts, then lived in New York, Rhode Island, and Illinois, where Calvin Phileo died. Following the death of her husband, Prudence Crandall relocated to Elk Falls, Kansas, where a state historical marker commemorates her contributions.

Connecticut repealed the Black Law in 1838, and later recognized Prudence Crandall with an act of the state legislature, prominently supported by Mark Twain
Mark Twain
Samuel Langhorne Clemens , better known by his pen name Mark Twain, was an American author and humorist...

, providing her with a $400 yearly pension in 1886 (about $9,500 in 2009 dollars).


Crandall's school still stands in Canterbury, Connecticut, and currently serves as the Prudence Crandall museum, run by the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism. The Prudence Crandall House
Prudence Crandall House
Prudence Crandall House, also known as Elisha Payne House and as the Prudence Crandall School for Negro Girls, is a historic house in Canterbury, Connecticut. It is notable for having been the home of Prudence Crandall, the abolitionist and educator, and the school which she ran from 1832 until...

 in Canterbury, Connecticut, was declared a National Historic Landmark
National Historic Landmark
A National Historic Landmark is a building, site, structure, object, or district, that is officially recognized by the United States government for its historical significance...

 in 1991.

In Enfield, Connecticut
Enfield, Connecticut
Enfield is a town located in Hartford County, Connecticut, United States. The population was 45,212 at the 2000 census. It sits on the border with Longmeadow, Massachusetts and East Longmeadow, Massachusetts to the north, Somers to the east, East Windsor and Ellington to the south, and the...

, an elementary school of Enfield Public Schools carries the namesake Prudence Crandall Elementary School.

In 1995, the Connecticut General Assembly designated Prudence Crandall as the state's official heroine.

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