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She's Connecticut's state female hero, for good reason
on December 22, 2005
In 1832, Prudence Crandall ran a private girls' boarding academy in Canterbury, a small Connecticut town located between Hartford and Providence, R.I. When a young African-American girl asked if she could attend Prudence's school, the teacher gladly took her in - much to the chagrin of local residents. In spite of their protests, Prudence went one step farther. Seeing that the educational need was a much larger one, she started a school just for "young Ladies and little Misses of color" in 1833, beginning with an enrollment of six girls from around New England. Even in a Northern state filled with abolitionists and anti-slavery supporters, this action was met with abhorence and eventual hostility. In retaliation, the legislature passed the Connecticut Black Law, which made it illegal to run a school for "colored persons who are not inhabitants of this State." Prudence was arrested and taken to court. She had powerful men on her side -- William Lloyd Garrison, Samuel May, and Arthur Tappan - and eventually, she was found innocent and the law was judged to be unconstitutional. But after the school was repeatedly vandalized, Prudence decided to close it in 1834. She married and moved out of the area, ending up in Kansas.
Her story could easily have ended there. Fifty years after she closed her school, the town of Canterbury and the state of Connecticut decided to apologize to Prudence. The Black Law had already been struck down in 1838. Now in 1886, the legislature granted her a pension of $400 a year to make up for the losses she suffered in the 1830s. Of course, the payment to her still didn't put an end to segregated schooling, but it was a step in the right direction. Prudence Crandall died in Elk Falls, Kansas, in 1890.
Suzanne Jurmain has done us a service by bringing Prudence Crandall's story to light and to life. Her re-telling makes for an interesting and easy read; and yet, it's the kind of real-life tale that makes one cringe at the behavior of one's fellow Americans, even those who are long, long gone. Jurmain concludes the book with a brief and necessary history of American civil rights since that time. The name of Prudence Crandall shouldn't slip through the cracks of our American history volumes. She should be as honored and as well-known as Rosa Parks.