Who was Prudence Crandall?
Prudence Crandall was an American teacher who established one of the first schools for African- American girls. She was one of the first abolitionists to protest against the inhuman slavery of the African American community by the white people of America. Born into a Quaker family, she was educated in a boarding school and later ran her own girls’ school where she taught peacefully until she admitted an African-American girl. Her decision to support an integrated school for everyone raised flames of objection and opposition from the white people. She responded with the decision of operating a school only for African-American girls which led to a legal battle between her and the state of Connecticut.. She was eventually acquitted but was forced to shut down her school because of the violent acts of citizens harassing her and the students. She fought for a noble cause throughout her life with an indomitable spirit and audacity which was supported by many abolitionists around the world. Her struggle against all odds was a proof of the strength of her character and willpower. She fought hard to create a society that would be free of discrimination based on race and class, and became an inspiration for future generations around the globe.
Childhood & Early Life
She was born on September 3, 1803 in Hopkinton, Rhode Island to Pardon Crandall and his wife Esther Crandall, a Quaker couple. She had three siblings; an older brother, Hezekiah Crandall, a younger brother named Reuben Crandall and a younger sister, Almira Crandall.
Her family moved to the town of Canterbury, Connecticut when she was 17. She received her education in arithmetic, Latin and sciences at the New England Friends’ Boarding School in Providence, Rhode Island.
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She taught at a girl’s school in Plainfield, Connecticut after completing her education. In 1831, she purchased a newly established school, Canterbury Female Boarding School, in Canterbury with her sister and started teaching there. It was regarded as one of the best academies in the state for girl education.
In 1832, she admitted Sarah Harris, daughter of an African American farmer, in her school. Sarah wanted to become a teacher and educate other African American children of the community.
Her decision of admitting a black girl was met with the objection and outburst of the parents of white girls of the school. They protested and pressurized her to expel Sarah, but she denied their unjust demand. As a result, the white parents removed their daughters from the school criticizing her decision.
She then decided to focus solely on the education of the African American community and began admitting their girls. Her school re-opened in 1833 under the name ‘Miss Crandall's School for Young Ladies and Little Misses of Color’.
This decision raised the temper of local citizens who resorted to threats and acts of violence to shut down the school. She, along with her students, faced hostile behavior from the public as they passed offensive comments and refused to provide goods and services to them.
She was also praised for her efforts and beliefs by some abolitionists but this was not enough to support her cause, because she faced opposition not only from the local citizens but also from the state. The Connecticut legislature introduced the ‘Black Law’, prohibiting such a school unless it had the town's permission and she was arrested.
She faced the trial with the support of a prominent abolitionist, Arthur Tappan, who provided money to hire the ablest defense lawyers for her. Initially, she was convicted by the Supreme Court but when the case went to the Supreme Court of Errors, it reversed the initial verdict and dismissed the case on account of lack of evidence.
Even though the law allowed her to operate the school, the citizens of the town were furious over this verdict. They consistently harassed her students with violent acts and rude comments. Even after winning the legal battle, she was forced to shut down the school to ensure safety of her students. The school was closed on September 10, 1834.
She was a true abolitionist and did everything she could do to revolt against slavery. With a vast knowledge on a variety of subjects, including English grammar, geography, history, chemistry, astronomy and many more, she tried to educate as many girls as she could in spite of all the objection and harassment she faced.
Even after marriage, she participated in women’s rights activities, making speeches for the suffrage movement and for tolerance.
Awards & Achievements
She was declared as the Connecticut’s official ‘State Heroine’ in 1995 by the Connecticut General Assembly.
Personal Life & Legacy
In 1834, she married a Baptist minister and a fellow abolitionist, Rev. Calvin Philleo, just before the school was shut down due to violent protests by the local citizens. Her husband had three children from his first marriage.
Philleo died in 1874. He had been constantly suffering from mental illnesses since 1840s.
After her husband passed away, she moved to Elk Falls, Kansas, to live with her elder brother in 1877. She died on January 28, 1890 due to illness and was buried in Elk Falls cemetery.
A few years before her death, the Connecticut legislature awarded her a yearly pension of $400 in recognition of the noble works she did for the society.
Her Canterbury school was redesigned and currently serves as the ‘Prudence Crandall Museum’, and the Prudence Crandall House in Canterbury was declared a ‘National Historic Landmark’ in 1991.