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Prudence Crandall

A drawing of Prudence CrandallPrudence Crandall was born September 3, 1803, in Hopkinton, Rhode Island. Crandall attended the New England Friends’ Boarding School in Providence, and received an education similar to most men, despite being a woman. In October 1831 Crandall opened a private girls’ academy in Canterbury, Connecticut, and it soon became one of the best schools in the state.

In 1833 Crandall admitted an African American student named Sarah Harris. Parents of the students demanded that Crandell expel Harris. Crandell ignored the protests and allowed Harris to stay in school and continue her education. Since Crandell did not expel Harris, parents removed their students, and Crandell organized a school for African American girls instead. The school opened in April 1833 and the townspeople responded by making rude comments, throwing rocks, eggs, and manure, and refusing to sell Crandall the items she needed to run the school. Crandall was forced to have goods shipped from outside the town in order to keep her school running. In 1833 the town members of Canterbury held discussions about shutting down Crandell’s school, and in a town vote, voted to protest the school. Despite the opposition Crandell’s school thrived at first with the help of William Lloyd Garrison, the editor of The Liberator, who placed advertisements for the school in the nation’s largest anti-slavery newspaper.

In 1834 the state of Connecticut passed the “Black Law,” a law that stipulated that schools could not teach African Americans from outside the state of Connecticut. Crandall was arrested for violating the law, but the case was later overturned on a technicality. However, townspeople continued to harass Crandall and her students, and after a violent mob attack that destroyed the windows and some of the furniture in her school, Crandall closed its doors for the safety of her students.

Crandall married Reverend Calvin Philleo and together they moved to Illinois, where Crandall continued to teach students from her home, and gave speeches about women’s suffrage and tolerance. Philleo died in 1874 and Crandall moved to Elk Falls, Kansas to live with her brother. In 1884 the state of Connecticut sent Crandall a pension that had been petitioned for by several members of Canterbury, Connecticut. Crandall died January 28, 1890 in Elk Falls, Kansas. Crandall was well known for opening the first African American school in America.

Entry: Crandall, Prudence

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: June 2012

Date Modified: January 2016

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.