Prudence Crandall

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Prudence Crandall
Appletons' Crandall Prudence.jpg
Appletons' Crandall Prudence signature.jpg

Prudence Crandall (September 3, 1803 – January 28, 1890)[1] was an American schoolteacher and activist who pushed for women's suffrage and the rights of African-American women in the United States.[2]

Crandall is remembered, and is the state heroine of Connecticut, for setting up the first school for black girls ("young Ladies and little Misses") in the country. This resulted in her arrest; then violence from townspeople forced her to close the school, and she left Connecticut, never to return.[3] However, when she admitted Sarah Harris, a 20-year-old African-American female student in 1832,[4][5] she had what is considered to be the first integrated classroom in the United States.[6] Parents of the white children began to withdraw them.[4] Rather than ask the African-American student to leave, she decided that if white girls could not attend with the blacks, she would educate blacks. She was arrested and spent a night in jail. Soon the violence of the townspeople forced her to close the school and leave.[4] The Connecticut legislature, with pressure from Mark Twain, a resident of Hartford, passed a resolution honoring Crandall and providing her with a pension. Twain offered to buy her former Canterbury home for her retirement, but she declined.[7] She died a few years later, in 1890.[6]

Early life[edit]

Prudence Crandall was born on September 3, 1803, to Pardon and Esther Carpenter Crandall, a Quaker couple who lived in Carpenter's Mills, Rhode Island.[8]:8 When she was about 10, her father moved the family to nearby Canterbury, Connecticut.[8]:9 As her father thought little of the local public school, he paid for her to attend the Black Hill Quaker School in Plainfield, 5 miles (8.0 km) east of Canterbury.[8]:9–10 Her teacher there, Rowland Greene, was opposed to slavery, and much later gave an address, published in Garrison's Liberator, on the necessity of education for blacks, and commended Isaac C. Glasgow for sending two of his daughters, "exemplary young women", to Crandall's school for young ladies of color.[9]

When 22, for one year she attended the New England Yearly Meeting School, a Quaker boarding school in Providence, Rhode Island.[8]:12 That the school existed was due to the generosity of Moses Brown, an abolitionist and co-founder of Brown University;[8]:12–13[6] in 1904 the school renamed itself the Moses Brown School. After graduating, Prudence Crandall taught a school in Plainfield.[10]

Establishment of the boarding school[edit]

In 1831, she purchased a house, with her sister Almira Crandall, to establish the Canterbury Female Boarding School, at the request of Canterbury's aristocratic residents, to educate young girls in the town.[3][10] With the help of her sister and a maid, she taught about forty children in different subjects including geography, history, grammar, arithmetic, reading, and writing.[10] As principal of the female boarding school, Prudence Crandall was deemed successful in her ability to educate young girls, and the school flourished until September 1832.[6]

Integration of the boarding school[edit]

Prudence Crandall
Went to Prison for Teaching Colored Students.

Although Prudence Crandall grew up as a North American Quaker, she admitted that she was not acquainted with many people of color or abolitionists.[6] She discovered the problems that plagued people of color through The Liberator, a newspaper published by William Lloyd Garrison.[6] After reading The Liberator, Prudence Crandall said in an earlier account that she "... contemplated for a while, the manner in which I might best serve the people of color."[6]

Prudence Crandall's chance to help people of color came in the fall of 1832. Sarah Harris, the daughter of a free African-American farmer near Canterbury,[4] asked to be accepted to the school to prepare for teaching other African Americans.[6][11]

Although Crandall was uncertain about the reception of Harris, she eventually admitted the girl, establishing what is believed to be the first integrated classroom in the United States.[4][6] Many prominent townspeople objected and placed pressure on Crandall to dismiss Harris from the school,[4] but Crandall refused. Although the white students in the school did not openly oppose the presence of Sarah Harris, families of the current white students removed their daughters from the school.[4]

Consequently, Crandall devoted herself to teaching African-American girls.[4] She temporarily closed the school and began directly recruiting new students of color and on March 2, 1833, William Lloyd Garrison, an abolitionist and supporter of the school, placed advertisements for new pupils in his newspaper The Liberator.[6] Crandall 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." Her references including leading abolitionists Arthur Tappan, Samuel J. May, and Garrison.[12]

As word of the school spread, African-American families began arranging enrollment of their daughters in Crandall's academy. On April 1, 1833, twenty African-American girls from Boston, Providence, New York, Philadelphia, and the surrounding areas in Connecticut arrived at Miss Crandall's School for Young Ladies and Little Misses of Color.[5]

Public backlash[edit]

In response to the new school, a committee of four prominent white men in the town, Rufus Adams, Daniel Frost Jr., Andrew Harris, and Richard Fenner, attempted to convince Crandall that her school for young women of color would be detrimental to the safety of the white people in the town of Canterbury.[4][13] Frost claimed that the boarding school would encourage "social equality and intermarriage of whites and blacks." To this her response was "Moses had a black wife."[4]

At first, citizens of Canterbury protested the school and then held town meetings "to devise and adopt such measures as would effectually avert the nuisance, or speedily abate it ..."[5] The town response escalated into warnings, threats, and acts of violence against the school. Crandall was faced with great local opposition, and her detractors had no plans to back down.

On May 24, 1833, the Connecticut legislature passed the "Black Law", which prohibited a school from teaching African-American students from outside the state without the town's permission.[14] In July, Crandall was arrested and placed in the county jail for one night—she refused to be bonded out, as she wished the public to know she was being jailed. The next day she was released under bond to await her trial.[4]

Under the Black Law, the townspeople refused any amenities to the students or Crandall, closing their shops and meeting houses to them. Stage drivers refused to provide them with transportation, and the town doctors refused to treat them.[14] Townspeople poisoned the school's well—its only water source—with animal feces, and prevented Crandall from obtaining water from other sources.[4] Not only did Crandall and her students receive backlash, her father was insulted and threatened by the citizens of Canterbury.[4] Although she faced extreme difficulties, Crandall continued to teach the young women of color which angered the community even further.

Crandall's students also suffered. Ann Eliza Hammond, a 17-year-old student, was arrested; however, with the help of local abolitionist Samuel J. May, she was able to post bail bond. Some $10,000 was raised through collections and donations.[4]

In response to May's support of Crandall, Connecticut politician Andrew T. Judson said,

Mr. May, 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; they ought not to be permitted to rise here. They are an inferior race of beings, and never call or ought to be recognized as the equals of the whites.[15]

Judicial proceedings[edit]

Arthur Tappan of New York, a prominent abolitionist, donated $10,000 to hire the best lawyers to defend Crandall throughout her trials.[5] The first opened at the Windham County Court on August 23, 1833.[4] The case challenged the constitutionality of the Connecticut law prohibiting the education of African Americans from outside the state.

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 the rights of African-American students under the United States Constitution.[4] By contrast, the prosecution denied the fact that freed African-Americans were citizens in any state. The county court jury ultimately failed to reach a decision for the cases.[16]

A second trial in Superior Court decided against the school, and the case was taken to the Supreme Court of Errors (now called the Connecticut Supreme Court) on appeal in July 1834.[3] The Connecticut high court reversed the decision of the lower court, dismissing the case on July 22 because of a procedural defect. The Black Law prohibited the education of black children from outside of Connecticut unless permission was granted by the local civil authority and town selectmen. But the prosecution's information that charged Crandall had not alleged that she had established her school without the permission of the civil authority and selectmen of Canterbury. Therefore, the Supreme Court held that the information was fatally defective because the conduct which it alleged did not constitute a crime. The Court did not address the issue of whether the citizenship of free African Americans had to be recognized in every state.[17][5]

The judicial process had not stopped the operation of the Canterbury boarding school,[6] but townspeople's vandalism against it increased. The residents of Canterbury were so angry that the court had dismissed the case that vandals set the school on fire in January 1834, but they failed in their attempts to destroy the school.[18][19] In September 9, 1834, a group of townspeople broke almost ninety window glass panes using heavy iron bars.[19] For the safety of her students, her family and herself, Prudence Crandall closed her school on September 10, 1834.[4]

Connecticut officially repealed the Black Law in 1838.[20]

Later years[edit]

In August 1834, Prudence Crandall married the Rev. Calvin Philleo, a Baptist preacher in Canterbury, Connecticut.[3] The couple moved to Massachusetts for a period of time after they fled the town of Canterbury,[10] and they also lived in New York, Rhode Island, and Illinois. It was later, in Illinois, that Rev. Calvin Philleo died in 1874.[5]

After the death of her husband, Crandall relocated with her brother Hezekiah to Elk Falls, Kansas around 1877, and[3] it was there that her brother eventually died in 1881.[19] A visitor of 1886, who found "a host of good books in her house", quoted her as follows:

My whole life has been one of opposition. I never could find anyone near me to agree with me. Even my husband opposed me, more than anyone. He would not let me read the books that he himself read, but I did read them. I read all sides, and searched for the truth whether it was in science, religion, or humanity. I sometimes think I would like to live somewhere else. Here, in Elk Falls, there is nothing for my soul to feed upon. Nothing, unless it comes from abroad in the shape of books, newspapers, and so on. There is no public library, and there are but one or two persons in the place that I can converse with profitably for any length of time. No one visits me, and I begin to think they are afraid of me. I think the ministers are afraid I shall upset their religious beliefs, and advise the members of their congregation not to call on me, but I don't care. I speak on spiritualism sometimes, but more on temperance, and am a self-appointed member of the International Arbitration League. I don't want to die yet. I want to live long enough to see some of these reforms consummated.[6]:528–529

In 1886, the state of Connecticut honored Prudence Crandall with an act by the legislature, prominently supported by writer Mark Twain, providing her with a $400 annual pension (equivalent to $11,200 in 2018).[6][21] Prudence Crandall died in Kansas on January 28, 1890, at the age of 86. She and her brother Hezekiah are buried in Elk Falls Cemetery.[22]

Other members of the family had difficulty with authorities during the 1830s. In May 1835, their brother, Reuben Crandall, who had studied medicine at Yale and taught botany, had moved from Peekskill, New York to Washington, D.C. He received a medical license there, and began giving lectures and cataloging plants. His trunks held many Anti-Slavery Society tracts and newspapers (some of which he used to wrap plants). On August 10, 1835, two constables arrested him on the charge of possession of abolitionist tracts with the intent to distribute them. A lynch mob gathered at the jail and U.S. Attorney Francis Scott Key prosecuted him. This was a short time after rioting by whites against blacks that had followed the alleged attempted murder of a white woman by a mentally ill slave, Arthur Bowen. Crandall was jailed for eight months before the two-week trial, but the jury acquitted him of all five charges. However, Crandall had contracted tuberculosis (TB), which had no known treatment. After returning briefly to Connecticut, he moved in 1836 to the milder climate of Jamaica in the Caribbean, where he died of the disease, at age 30.[23]


Prudence Crandall, portrait by Francis Alexander. (Image from The Century Magazine, September 1985)

The Episcopal Church (United States) remembers Crandall annually on September 3, as a saint, in its liturgical calendar.[24]

An oil portrait of her by Francis Alexander was commissioned by her supporters in 1834. It is at Cornell University. A duplicate is in the Prudence Campbell Museum (house).[25]

In the late 20th century, Crandall received renewed attention and honors:


  1. ^ Adams, James Truslow (1930). "Crandall, Prudence". Dictionary of American Biography. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.
  2. ^ a b "Prudence Crandall Collection". Linda Lear Center for Special Collections & Archives. Connecticut College. Retrieved May 3, 2016.
  3. ^ a b c d e Green, Arnold W. (January–March 1966). "Nineteenth Century Canterbury Tale". Phylon. 7 (1). pp. 58–63. JSTOR 271285.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q Wormley, G. Smith. The Journal of Negro History, "Prudence Crandall", Vol. 8, No. 1, January 1923, pp. 72–80. JSTOR 2713460
  5. ^ a b c d e f Tisler, C.C. "Prudence Crandall, Abolitionist", Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society (1908–1984), Vol. 33, No. 2, June 1940, pp. 203–206. JSTOR 40187935
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Small, Edwin W.; Small, Miriam R. (December 1944). "Prudence Crandall Champion of Negro Education". New England Quarterly. 17 (4). pp. 506–529. JSTOR 361805.
  7. ^ "Prudence Crandall and the Canterbury Female Boarding School". Country Cultures. May 15, 2011. Retrieved July 15, 2019.
  8. ^ a b c d e Williams, Jr., Donald E (2014). Prudence Crandall's legacy : the fight for equality in the 1830s, Dred Scott, and Brown v. Board of Education. Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press. ISBN 9780819574701.
  9. ^ Greene, Rowland (October 8, 1836). "An Address to the Free People of Color in New England and other free States in America". The Liberator. p. 2 – via
  10. ^ a b c d "The Drama of Prudence Crandall." Prudence Crandall Collection, Box 3. Linda Lear Center for Special Collections & Archives, Connecticut College.
  11. ^ Rycenga, Jennifer. "A Greater Awakening: Women's Intellect as a Factor in Early Abolitionist Movements, 1824–1834", Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, Vol. 21, No. 2, 2005.
  12. ^ Wikisource-logo.svg Wilson, J. G.; Fiske, J., eds. (1900). "Crandall, Prudence" . Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. New York: D. Appleton.
  13. ^ "A Canterbury Tale: A Document Package for Connecticut's Prudence Crandall Affair". The Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition. Retrieved October 18, 2017.
  14. ^ a b "Alexander, Elizabeth and Nelson, Marilyn. Miss Crandall's School for Young Ladies and Little Misses of Color", Wordsong, 2007.
  15. ^ Samuel J. Morse. "Miss Prudence Crandall and the Canterbury School (excerpt)". Some Recollections of Our Antislavery Conflict. Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition. Archived from the original on October 31, 2012. Retrieved February 19, 2012. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  16. ^ "A Statement of Facts. Respecting the School for Colored Females in Canterbury, CT Together with a Report of the Late Trial of Miss Prudence Crandall Archived June 7, 2010, at the Wayback Machine", Brooklyn, Connecticut: Advertiser Press, 1833. Retrieved May 11, 2010.
  17. ^ Crandall v. State of Connecticut, 10 Conn. 339, 366–72 (1834). From Google Books. Retrieved on December 25, 2015.
  18. ^ Larned, Ellen D. "History of Windham County, Connecticut", Worcester C. Hamilton, 1880.
  19. ^ a b c "More Than Meets the Eye Historical Archaeology at the Prudence Crandall House." Prudence Crandall Collection, Box 3. Linda Lear Center for Special Collections & Archives, Connecticut College.
  20. ^ "Connecticut's Black Law", Historic Texts and Transcripts. Yale University. Retrieved May 11, 2010.
  21. ^ Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. "Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–". Retrieved January 2, 2019.
  22. ^ Williams Jr., Donald. Prudence Crandall's Legacy: The Fight for Equality in the 1830s, Dred Scott, and Brown v. Board of Education.
  23. ^ Leepson, Marc, What so Proudly We Hailed: Francis Scott Key, a Life, (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), pp. 169–172, 181–185
  24. ^ "Prudence Crandall, Teacher and Prophetic Witness". September 14, 2016. Retrieved September 14, 2016.
  25. ^ Furbish, Lawrence; Bragg, Sandra (March 13, 2000). "Honoring Prudence Crandall". Connecticut General Assembly, Office of Legislative Research. OCLC 166387002.
  26. ^ "Teaching with Historic Places Lesson Plan Series: From Canterbury to Little Rock: The Struggle for Educational Equality for African Americans", OAH Magazine of History, Vol. 15, No. 2, Winter 2001.
  27. ^ Michael Hill (April 15, 1991). "'She Stood Alone' is compelling history". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved July 22, 2019.
  28. ^ "Prudence Crandall". Connecticut Women's Hall of Fame. Retrieved July 22, 2019.
  29. ^ "Sites º Seals º Symbols". Connecticut's Official State Website. Retrieved July 22, 2019.
  30. ^ "The State Heroine". Connecticut's Official State Website. Retrieved July 18, 2018.
  31. ^ "New Prudence Crandall Statue". ConneCT Kids. January 2, 2009. Retrieved July 22, 2019.
  32. ^ "Prudence Crandall statue unveiled". The Bulletin. October 23, 2008. Retrieved July 22, 2019.
  33. ^ "Prudence Crandall Interstate Memorial Marker". Kansas Office of Tourism & Travel. Retrieved May 3, 2016.

Further reading[edit]

  • Crandall, Prudence (October 1949). "Letters of Prudence Crandall Philleo to George Harris Richardson". Negro History Bulletin. 13 (1). p. 15. JSTOR 44174848.

External links[edit]