Prudence Crandall (September 3, 1803 – January 28, 1890) was an American schoolteacher and activist who pushed for women's suffrage and the rights of African Americans in the United States. Originally from Rhode Island, Crandall was raised as a Quaker in Canterbury, Connecticut, and she became known for establishing an academy for the education of African-American girls and women.
In 1831, Crandall opened a private school for young white girls. However, when she admitted Sarah Harris, a 17-year-old African-American female student in 1832, she had what is considered to be the first integrated classroom in the United States. After Crandall decided to admit girls of color into her school, the parents of the white children began to withdraw their support. Despite the backlash she eventually received from the townspeople, she continued to educate, exclusively, young girls of color before she was forced to leave, with her husband Rev. Calvin Philleo, due to the magnitude of retaliation from the townspeople. In 1886, two decades after the end of the Civil War and the abolition of slavery, Connecticut passed a resolution honoring Crandall and providing her with a pension; she died a few years later in 1890.
Prudence Crandall was born on September 3, 1803, to Pardon and Esther Carpenter Crandall, a Quaker couple in the Hope Valley area in the town of Hopkinton, Rhode Island. When she was 17, her father moved the family to Canterbury, Connecticut. In Providence, Rhode Island, Crandall attended Friends' Boarding School. After graduating, Prudence Crandall taught a school in the nearby town of Plainfield, Rhode Island.
Establishment of the boarding school
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. 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. 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.
Integration of the boarding school
Although Prudence Crandall grew up as a North American Quaker, she admitted that she was not acquainted with many people of color or abolitionists. She discovered the problems that plagued people of color through The Liberator, a newspaper published by William Lloyd Garrison. 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."
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, asked to be accepted to the school to prepare for teaching other African Americans.
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. Many prominent townspeople objected and placed pressure on Crandall to dismiss Harris from the school, 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.
Consequently, Crandall devoted herself to teaching African-American girls. 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. 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, William Lloyd Garrison, and Arnold Buffum.
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.
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. Frost claimed that the boarding school would encourage "social equality and intermarriage of whites and blacks."
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..." 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. In July, Crandall was arrested and placed in the county jail for one night and released under bond to await her trial.
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. Townspeople poisoned the school's well—its only water source—with animal feces, and prevented Crandall from obtaining water from other sources. Not only did Crandall and her students receive backlash, her father was insulted and threatened by the citizens of Canterbury. 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.
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.
Arthur Tappan of New York, a prominent abolitionist, donated $10,000 to hire the best lawyers to defend Crandall throughout her trials. The first opened at the Windham County Court on August 23, 1833. 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. 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.
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. 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.
The judicial process had not stopped the operation of the Canterbury boarding school, 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. In September 9, 1834, a group of townspeople broke almost ninety windows in the academy using heavy iron bars. For the safety of her students, her family and herself, Prudence Crandall closed her school on September 10, 1834.
Connecticut officially repealed the Black Law in 1838.
In August 1834, Prudence Crandall married the Rev. Calvin Philleo, a Baptist preacher in Canterbury, Connecticut. The couple moved to Massachusetts for a period of time after they fled the town of Canterbury, and they also lived in New York, Rhode Island, and Illinois. It was later, in Illinois, that Rev. Calvin Philleo died in 1874.
After the death of her husband, Crandall relocated with her brother Hezekiah to Elk Falls, Kansas around 1877, and it was there that her brother eventually died in 1881. 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 $10,900 in 2017). 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.
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.
In the late 20th century, Crandall received renewed attention and honors:
- The Prudence Crandall House in Canterbury was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1991.
- Crandall's school building survived the vandalism and still stands in Canterbury. It is now owned by the state and operated as the Prudence Crandall Museum, run by the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism.
- Prudence Crandall's papers are held by the Connecticut College archives.
- Crandall was the subject of a television movie entitled She Stood Alone (1991), in which she was portrayed by actress Mare Winningham.
- Crandall is a member of the state women's halls of fame in Connecticut and Rhode Island.
- In Enfield, Connecticut, the Prudence Crandall Elementary School pays homage to her work in education.
- In 1995, the Connecticut General Assembly designated Prudence Crandall as the state's official heroine. In 2009, a statue of Crandall and a pupil was erected in the state capital.
- Kansas erected an interstate highway marker to honor Crandall (it notes her Connecticut litigation as a precursor to the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Brown v Board of Education (1954), which involved the school district of Topeka, Kansas).
- Adams, James Truslow (1930). "Crandall, Prudence". Dictionary of American Biography. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.
- Linda Lear Center for Special Collections and Archives, Connecticut College.
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- "The Drama of Prudence Crandall." Prudence Crandall Collection, Box 3. Linda Lear Center for Special Collections and Archives, Connecticut College.
- 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.
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- "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.
- Crandall v. State of Connecticut, 10 Conn. 339, 366–72 (1834). From Google Books. Retrieved on December 25, 2015.
- Larned, Ellen D. "History of Windham County, Connecticut", Worcester C. Hamilton, 1880.
- "More Than Meets the Eye Historical Archaeology at the Prudence Crandall House." Prudence Crandall Collection, Box 3. Linda Lear Center for Special Collections and Archives, Connecticut College.
- "Connecticut's Black Law", Historic Texts and Transcripts. Yale University. Retrieved May 11, 2010.
- Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis Community Development Project. "Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–". Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Retrieved January 2, 2018.
- Williams Jr., Donald. Prudence Crandall's Legacy: The Fight for Equality in the 1830s, Dred Scott, and Brown v. Board of Education.
- Leepson, Marc, What so Proudly We Hailed: Francis Scott Key, a Life, (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), pp. 169–172, 181–185
- "Prudence Crandall, Teacher and Prophetic Witness". Satucket.org. September 14, 2016. Retrieved September 14, 2016.
- "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.
- "Prudence Crandall Collection Finding Aid". Retrieved May 3, 2016.
- Michael Hill, "'She Stood Alone' is compelling history", Baltimore Sun, April 15, 1991; accessed July 10, 2017
- "Our History". Connecticut Women's Hall of Fame. Retrieved October 24, 2017.
- STATE OF CONNECTICUT, Sites º Seals º Symbols; Connecticut State Register & Manual; retrieved on January 4, 2007
- Committee, ConneCT Kids. "KIDS: System Folder - Do Not Delete". www.kids.ct.gov.
- "Prudence Crandall Interstate Memorial Marker". Retrieved May 3, 2016.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Prudence Crandall.|
- ”From Canterbury to Little Rock: The Struggle for Educational Equality for African Americans”, a National Park Service Teaching with Historic Places (TwHP) lesson plan
- Kansas Historical Society marker on US 160 on the west edge of Elk Falls, KS honoring Prudence Crandall
- "Prudence Crandall". Civil Rights Pioneer. Find a Grave. June 27, 2004.
- "Hezekiah Crandall", Find a Grave.
- "Calvin Wheeler Philleo (1822 – ) – Find A Grave Photos".
- She Stood Alone, television movie about Crandall, Internet Movie Database
- Michals, Debra. "Prudence Crandall". National Women's History Museum. 2015.