Ann Plato (c. 1824 – unknown) was a 19th-century Black (African-American and Native American) educator and author. She was the second woman of color to publish a book in America and the first to publish a book of essays and poems. As a young Black girl writing in the 19th century, Plato has been described as an heir to Phillis Wheatley, who wrote her first published poem at 13 in 1766. There is not much biographical information on Plato, and most of her life is known from her only publish work, Essays through her own words but also the preface written by Reverend James W.C. Pennington, an abolitionist leader in Hartford, CT as well as pastor.
Ann Plato was born around 1820 or 1824 in Hartford, Connecticut, and was most likely the eldest daughter of Henry and Deborah Plato. In the 1828 Hartford City Directory, Henry Plato was listed as a laborer and Debroah Plato was listed as a seamstress, living at 23 Elm Street. Her father was a farmer, and she had one sister, as well as a brother who died young.
As is the case with many people of color who lived in America during the 1800s, there exists very little information about her. Most of what is known about her comes from the introduction of her book, written by Reverend James W. C. Pennington, pastor of the Colored Congregational Church of Hartford and the first black man to attend classes at Yale University. Pennington was an important influence on Plato's educator. In her book's introduction, Pennington wrote of Plato: "My authoress is a colored lady, a member of my church, of pleasing piety and modest worth."
Teacher and writer
In 1841, at the age of 16, she published her only known book, entitled Essays: Including Biographies and Miscellaneous Pieces in Prose and Poetry. The essays reflected the New England Puritan values of her environment. Topics included "Benevolence," "Education," "Employment" and "Religion." The essays stressed both the importance of education and of leading a pious, industrious life. The book also contained some poetry and biographies of departed female friends and acquaintances.
Some critics from later generations found Plato's essays and poetry to be overly moralizing as well as routine and lacking in originality. Many of them also derided her for not mentioning the issue of slavery in America, as did some of her near contemporaries including Frances Harper and Charlotte Forten Grimke. Plato's one reference to slavery in her book concerns its abolition in the West Indies in 1838 (perhaps a reference to the Slavery Abolition Act 1833 valid throughout the British Empire).
Nothing is known about Plato's life after her book was published in 1841. Furthermore, the year of her death cannot be found. However, Ron Welburn in his book Hartford's Ann Plato and the Native Borders of Identity (SUNY Press, 2015) records that in the 1870 Iowa Federal census a 46-year-old woman called "Miss Plato" who may well be Ann Plato is listed as residing in Decorah Township, Winneshiek County, Iowa.
In 1988, Oxford University Press released The Schomburg Library of Nineteenth-Century Black Women Writers with Professor Henry Louis Gates as the general editor of the series. Plato's book was reprinted as a part of this collection.
"A good education is that which prepares us for our future sphere of action and makes us contented with that situation in life in which God, in his infinite mercy, has seen fit to place us, to be perfectly resigned to our lot in life, whatever it may be." –Ann Plato
A good education is another name for happiness" –Ann Plato
Essays: Including Biographies and Miscellaneous Pieces of Prose and Poetry (1841), contains four biographical compositions, sixteen very short essays, and twenty poems and is sectioned off into three parts: “Prose,” “Biographies,” and “Poetry.” This collection reflects Plato's work and interest in the antebellum schoolroom as well as her relationship to religion. The prose section reflects Plato’s ideas about education and how Christian principals are infused in the classroom. Plato uses the eulogies of four Black girls, Louisa Sebury, Julia Ann Pell, Eliza Loomis Sherman, and Elizabeth Low, who most likely died of consumption, to present a template on how to live a “legible” righteous life. Finally, her poetry section is a collection of poetry that further considers life, death, and suffering.
- Wright 736
- O’Neale, Sondra. “Phillis Wheatley.” Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation, www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/phillis-wheatley.
- Ivy Linton Stabell. “Innocence in Ann Plato’s and Susan Paul’s Black Children’s Biographies.” In Who Writes for Black Children?: African American Children’s Literature before 1900, edited by Katharine Capshaw and Anna Mae Duane, 1 edition., 75–93. Minneapolis: Univ Of Minnesota Press, 2017.
- Bassard 72.
- Finkelman, Paul (2006). Encyclopedia of African American History 1619–1895: From the Colonial Period to the Age of Frederick Douglass. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 519. ISBN 978-0-19-516777-1.
- Ann Plato, "To The First of August", reprinted in Margaret Busby (ed.), Daughters of Africa: An International Anthology of Words and Writings by Women of African Descent, Jonathan Cape, 1992, pp. 75–76.
- Wright 737.
- Welburn, Ron, Hartford's Ann Plato and the Native Borders of Identity, SUNY Press, 2015, p. 125.
- Welburn (2015), Hartford's Ann Plato and the Native Borders of Identity, Chapter 1, p. 17.
- Georgini, Sara. “A Woman's Work: Ann Plato's Republic.” Society for US Intellectual History, 21 Dec. 2016, s-usih.org/2016/12/a-womans-work-ann-platos-republic/.
- Bassard, Katherine Clay. Spiritual Interrogations: Culture, Gender, and Community in Early African Women's Writing. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999. ISBN 1-4008-0036-6.
- Shockley, Ann Allen. Afro-American Women Writers 1746–1933: An Anthology and Critical Guide, New Haven, Connecticut: Meridian Books, 1989. ISBN 0-452-00981-2
- Wright, Michelle Diane. Broken Utterances: A Selected Anthology of 19th Century Black Women's Social Thought. Three Sistahs Press, 2007. ISBN 978-0976936510
- Robinson, William H., editor. Early Black American Poets, Dubuque, Iowa: William C. Brown Publishers, 1969. ISBN 0-697-03953-6
- Sherman, Joan R. Invisible Poets: Afro-Americans of the Nineteenth Century, Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1974. ISBN 0-252-06061-X