Sarah J. Garnet

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Sarah J. Garnett
Sarah J. Garnet.jpg
Born Sarah Smith
(1831-07-31)July 31, 1831
Brooklyn, New York, US
Died September 17, 1911(1911-09-17)
Occupation Educator and suffragist

Sarah J. Tompkins Garnet (née Smith) (July 31, 1831 - Sept. 17, 1911) was an African-American educator and suffragist from New York City who was a pioneer as the first African-American female school principal in the New York City public school system.[1][2][3]

Family and early life[edit]

Sarah J. Smith, daughter of Sylvanus and Anne (Springsteel) Smith, was born on July 31, 1831 in Brooklyn, New York. Sarah was the oldest of eleven children.[3] Her sister Susan McKinney Steward was first African-American woman in New York State to earn a medical degree, and the third in the United States.[3]

Sarah married Samuel Tompkins who died in approximately 1852. Her two children from that marriage died prematurely.[3]

Pioneer educator[edit]

When Sarah began teaching in New York City, the public schools were racially segregated.[4] Sarah began teaching at the African Free School of Williamsburg in 1854. She was the first African-American woman to be appointed as a principal in the New York City public school system; she took over as principal of Grammar School Number 4 on April 30, 1863.[3] She taught many prominent students, including musician Walter F. Craig.[5]

Garnet retired from active school service in 1900. She served as teacher and principal for more than fifty years.[6]


Sarah was the founder of the Brooklyn suffrage organization, Equal Suffrage League in the late 1880s. And she was the superintendent of suffrage for the National Association of Colored Women.[3]

Later life, death, legacy[edit]

Sarah owned a seamstress shop in Brooklyn from 1883 to 1911.[3]

After noted abolitionist Henry Highland Garnet’s wife died, he and Sarah married. While on an appointment as Ambassador in Liberia, Garnet became ill, and he died on February 13, 1882 in Monrovia.[7]

Sarah traveled with her sister, Susan Steward to London, England for the inaugural Universal Races Congress of 1911 where Steward presented the paper, "Colored American Women." The conference was also attended by W. E. B. Du Bois. Soon after they returned from London, she died at home.[3]


  1. ^ Michael, Pollak (12 September 2009). "FYI: Pioneering Principals". The New York Times. New York, New York: The New York Times. pp. MB10. Retrieved 13 March 2010. 
  2. ^ "Who Were the Women who made up the Suffrage Movement?". University of Louisville Women's Center website. Louisville, Kentucky: University of Louisville. 2008. Retrieved 1 March 2010. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h MacDonald, Meg Meneghel (2007–2009). Garnet, Sarah J. Smith Tompkins (1831-1911). Washingtone Stat: Retrieved 12 March 2010. 
  4. ^ Jessie Carney Smith, ed. (1996). Notable Black American Women. 2. Detroit Michigan: Gale Research Inc. p. 308. ISBN 0-316-10617-8. Retrieved 13 March 2010. 
  5. ^ Musician who Made his Mark, The New York Age, (New York, New York) February 11, 1933, page 4, accessed October 11, 2016 at
  6. ^ Fuller, H. S. (May 31, 1900). "Personal". School: devoted to the public schools and educational interests. New York, New York: The School News Company. 11: 319,. Retrieved 1 March 2010. 
  7. ^ Polcino, Christine Ann (Fall 2004). "Biography: Garnet, Henry Highland". Literary and Cultural Heritage Map of Pennsylvania Writers. University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University. Retrieved 1 March 2010.