NHA University Virtual Event: African American Women and the Equal School Rights Movement in Massachusetts

The Nantucket Historical Association hosts Kabria Baumgartner, author of the award-winning In Pursuit of Knowledge: Black Women and Educational Activism in Antebellum America, for a virtual book talk.

Most people learn about school desegregation in the context of the mid-twentieth-century South. Brown v. Board of Education. Ruby Bridges. The Little Rock Nine. Yet a century before that, African American women and girls in the North led the fight for equal school rights—the right of all to a quality education on an equal basis. Massachusetts was the epicenter of the equal school rights movement, which began in the 1830s and continued through the 1860s, spreading to Rhode Island and Connecticut.

This talk examines the educational lives of four young African American women activists from Massachusetts: Sarah Parker Remond of Salem; Eunice Ross of Nantucket; Josephine St. Pierre of Boston; and Charlotte Forten of Salem (by way of Philadelphia). These young women adopted a range of protest strategies, from writing editorials on education and petitioning local school committees to boycotting racially segregated schools. Amid this surge of activism, these young women became educational reformers, and their valuable work reshaped public education in and around the Northeast. Exploring this history is vital, not only to spotlight the long struggle for Black educational justice, but also to remind us of our collective obligation to democratize public education today.


Kabria Baumgartner, Ph.D., is an associate professor of English and American Studies and core faculty in the Women’s and Gender Studies department at the University of New Hampshire, where she was named the 2019 Outstanding Assistant Professor. Her research and writing interests focus on African American history, literature, and culture in nineteenth-century New England. She has published numerous scholarly articles and book chapters as well as essays in the Washington Post, WBUR’s blog Cognoscenti, and Historic New England Magazine. She is writing a biography of the African American lawyer Robert Morris. To learn more, visit www.kabriabaumgartner.com.

The Nantucket Historical Association preserves and interprets the history of Nantucket through its programs, collections, and properties, in order to promote the island’s significance and foster an appreciation of it among all audiences.

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