Teacher of Runaway Slaves at Fortress Monroe
Mary Peake was a teacher, best known for starting a school for the children of former slaves in the summer of 1861, under the shade of a tree that would become known as the Emancipation Oak in present-day Hampton, Virginia. This makeshift outdoor classroom provided the foundation of what would become Hampton University.
Image: Mary Peake
In 1823, Mary Smith Kelsey was born free in Norfolk, Virginia. Her father was an Englishman “of rank and culture” and her mother was a free woman of color, described as light-skinned. When Mary was six, her mother sent her to the town of Alexandria (then part of the District of Columbia) to attend school while living with her aunt Mary Paine.
Wife of U.S. Senator Henry Clay
Lucretia Hart was born March 18, 1781 in Hagerstown, Maryland into a wealthy and socially prominent family. She moved to Kentucky with her parents in 1784. Henry Clay was born on April 12, 1777, in Hanover County, Virginia to a middle-class family. Clay studied for the bar with the eminent George Wythe [link], and at age 20, moved to Lexington, Kentucky, where he developed a thriving practice and met his future wife.
Image: Lucretia and Henry Clay
After a brief courtship, Lucretia Hart married Henry Clay April 11, 1799 at her family home in Lexington, Kentucky. Though Lucretia was not physically attractive, neither was Clay. Far more important were her family connections, which placed Clay among the best and most influential political circles in Kentucky. That he loved to drink and gamble was no drawback in an age that admired both vices.
The first Africans in Virginia brought to Jamestown in 1619 were quickly purchased on the same terms as English indentured servants: after seven years of labor, they were free. By 1625, there were said to be twenty-three Africans serving in Virginia; twenty-five years later, there were 300.
Image: Slaves Waiting For Sale in the Richmond Slave Market
Oil Painting by Eyre Crowe
Slavery in Colonial Virginia
Blacks were not automatically slaves in early Virginia. Some held property, married and raised families outside the institution of slavery. Before 1660, most slaves in Virginia lived on plantations with two or three others, and most slaves were male. Interactions with whites were common and restrictions based exclusively on race were not rigid.
Conductor on the Underground Railroad
Quakers Levi and Catherine Coffin helped thousands of fugitive slaves to safety in Newport, Indiana and Cincinnati, Ohio through the Undergound Railroad, a network of more than 3,000 homes and other stations that helped runaway slaves travel from southern states to freedom in northern states and Canada.
Image: Catherine Coffin and her husband Levi
On October 28, 1824, Levi Coffin married Catherine White, sister of his brother-in-law and long-time friend. The Coffins and the Whites were Quakers and abolitionists who opposed slavery. Catherine’s family is believed to have been involved in helping runaway slaves, and it is likely she met Levi while taking part in these activities. Catherine gave birth to Jesse, the first of their six children, in 1825.
First Female Mexican American Author to Write in English
Maria Amparo Ruiz de Burton is among the best remembered authors of nineteenth-century Mexican American literature. Fully bilingual, de Burton was the first female Mexican American to write novels in English: Who Would Have Thought It? and The Squatter and the Don.
Though records are sparse, Maria Amparo Ruiz was born into an aristocratic Latino family in Loreto on the Baja California peninsula of Mexico. Her grandfather, Don Jose Manuel Ruiz, was sent to the frontier to assist in the founding of missions in Baja.
Heading a large force of men, Ruiz left Loreto in 1780, and several missions were soon founded. For this, Ruiz was awarded a large grant of land, “…48,884 acres was conferred upon Lieutenant Jose Manuel Ruiz of the Spanish Army, July 10, 1804 for gallant services.” As granddaughter of Ruiz, Maria would one day inherit the vast Rancho Ensenada de Todos Santos established on those lands by her grandfather.
Novelist and Author of Domestic Manuals
Mary Virginia Terhune (1830–1922) was an American author of novels, short stories, biographies, travel narratives, cookbooks and domestic manuals whose career stretched across seven decades. She began her career writing articles at the age of 14, using various pen names, until 1853 when she settled on Marion Harland. Her first novel Alone sold more than 100,000 copies.
Born December 21, 1830 in Dennisville, Virginia, Mary Virginia Hawes was the third of nine children born to Samuel Pierce and Judith Anna Smith Hawes. Terhune was home schooled until 1844, when her family moved to Richmond, Virginia, where she attended a girl’s seminary school for two years of formal education.
First College to Admit Women and Blacks
The main reason women did not go to college in the early 19th century was because most people believed that, because women became wives, mothers or teachers of young children, they did not need to go to college. But the founders of Oberlin College knew that women could become even better wives, mothers and teachers if they were able to take college classes.
Image: Mary Caroline Rudd Allen
One of the first American women to receive a Bachelor of Arts degree, which she earned at Oberlin College.
The Oberlin Four
Oberlin College was founded in 1833 in Oberlin, Ohio, and became the first college in the United States to admit women as well as men. There were four courses of study: the Female, Teachers, Collegiate and Theological Departments. Women were allowed to study in the Female or Teachers Department.
Pioneer Doctor and Women’s Rights Activist
Dr. Lydia Folger Fowler was a pioneering American physician, the second woman in America to earn a medical degree, the first American-born woman to receive an American medical degree and and the first woman professor at an American medical school. Her many-faceted career was spent in medicine, lecturing, writing, and activist for women’s rights.
Lydia Folger was born on Nantucket, Massachusetts May 5, 1822 to Gideon and Eunice Macy Folger, a historic Massachusetts family descended from Benjamin Franklin, and her famous cousins – women’s rights activist Lucretia Mott and astronomer Maria Mitchell. Lydia grew up on Nantucket and was educated in the local schools, and Wheaton Seminary in Norton, Massachusetts, where she taught from 1842 to 1844.
Women’s Suffrage Leader in Missouri
Virginia Minor claimed that as a native-born, free, white citizen of the United States and over the age of 21, the 14th Amendment gave her the right to vote. She attempted to register to vote but was denied because of her gender. Minor filed suit but lost her case – Minor v. Happersett (1874) – in the U.S. Supreme Court. The publicity, however, greatly helped her cause.
Virginia Louisa Minor was born March 27, 1824 in Caroline County, Virginia to Warner and Marie Timberlake Minor. Virginia moved with her family to Charlottesville when her father was appointed hotel keeper at the University of Virginia. Virginia was educated at home and for a short time at an academy for young ladies in Charlottesville.
First Woman Justice of the Peace in America
Wyoming can claim many firsts for women: the right to vote, the first woman governor, and the first woman judge in American history, Esther Hobart Morris. At the time of her appointment as Justice of the Peace, Morris was 59 years old. Although widely celebrated as a hero of the early suffragist movement, she spent the first 55 years of her life living quietly in New York state and Illinois.
Esther Hobart was born August 6, 1814 in Tioga County, New York. Orphaned as a young girl, she served as an apprentice to a seamstress and ran a millinery business out of her grandparents’ home. She was a successful businesswoman by her early 20s. As a young woman, Esther spoke out against slavery, and supported women’s right to organize societies that would abolish slavery.