Prudence Crandall, 1803 – 1890
Born to a Quaker family in Rhode Island in 1803, Prudence Crandall was educated in arithmetic, the sciences, and Latin at the New England Friend’s Boarding School in Rhode Island. The Quakers, or “Friends,” believed that women should be educated, and it was in this environment that Prudence Crandall’s passion for teaching was awakened.
IN 1831, Crandall started a girls’ school in Canterbury, Connecticut, where she educated the daughters of the town’s wealthy families. In 1833 she admitted a young African American girl named Sarah Harris to her school. Harris wanted an education so that she could in turn teach other African American children. The parents of the white children at Crandall’s school were outraged and demanded Harris’s expulsion, but Crandall refused and decided to open a new school for African American girls. Despite repeated attempts by town members to close the school, and even threats to destroy it, Crandall persevered in her labors. She enlisted the help of William Lloyd Garrison, editor of The Liberator, the nation’s major antislavery newspaper. Through his paper and advocacy, Garrison spread awareness of her cause all over the nation. However, later in 1833, the state legislature passed the so-called “Black Law,” which made it a crime to open a school that taught black children from any state other than Connecticut. Crandall, who had received pupils from other states, was arrested, jailed and tried. She was eventually convicted, but a higher court reversed the decision. Farm from subsiding, the harassment she endured grew worse, and, fearing for the safety of her students, she closed her school in 1834.
After her husband died in 1874, Crandall moved to Elk Falls, Kansas. In 1886 the Connecticut state legislator awarded her a pension. In a petition signed by more than a hundred citizens of that state, many expressed their regret and shame over her treatment. Mark Twain attempted to persuade the state to buy back her original home in Canterbury. Prudence Crandall died in 1890, and today she is recognized as the official state Heroine of Connecticut.
I always struggle with which saint to pick for these articles. I try to find one whose story speaks to me in terms of what’s going on in our lives today. Prudence Crandall stood out because of all of the rising racial tensions and the whole “build a wall” mentality. I don’t pretend to know the answer but instead of sowing hatred and trying to build divisions between ourselves and “others,” I wonder how different our world would be if like Prudence Crandall, we built bridges of opportunity for every person, bridges built in faith and love. Instead of perpetuating the hatred by statements like “he deserved it” when a man is shot and killed in the streets and “they’re a drain on our system” when we encounter people moving here from other countries, how much better would our world be if every person calling him or herself a Christian, reached out in faith and love and worked together to build a bridge that allowed every person to be treated with dignity, to be given the same education, to be given hope instead of hatred. I hope we can take a page from Prudence Crandall’s life lesson book and have the courage to hold out a hand in friendship instead of using it to hold a pole to push people back and to hold them down.
God, the wellspring of justice and strength: we thank you for raising up in Prudence Crandall a belief in education and a resolute will to teach people of every color and race, that alongside her they might take their place in working for the nurture and well-being of all society, undaunted by prejudice or adversity. Grant that we, following her example, may participate in the work of building up the human family in Christ, your Word and Wisdom; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and forever. Amen
Psalm 86:11-17 Habakkuk 3:16-19 Acts 24:10-21 Luke 9:62-10:2