Prudence Crandall, a Rhode Island-born Quaker, opened a school for young ladies in Canterbury, CT, in 1831. The school quickly became a success, attracting young women from other states. The young ladies studied reading arithmetic, English grammar, geography, history, natural and moral philosophy, rhetoric, chemistry, drawing and painting, French and the delineation of maps.
In 1832, Prudence’s housekeeper asked if she would consider accepting a young black woman into the school. Sarah Harris, daughter of a prosperous, local farmer, wanted to become a teacher. Prudence accepted Sarah, arousing the anger of the townspeople.
Many parents removed their daughters from the school. Prudence retaliated by opening a school solely for young black women, which only intensified the anger against her. Storeowners refused to sell her food. Residents of Canterbury threw rocks and eggs at the building. In May 1833, Connecticut enacted laws making it illegal to educate black children. Prudence refused to close the school and was arrested June 27, 1833.
After a jury failed to reach a verdict, she was given a second trial, at which she was found guilty. That verdict was overturned on a technicality, which so angered the townspeople that they stormed the school with clubs and iron bars. Prudence closed the school the next day, fearing for the safety of her students.
She married and moved to the mid-west, but throughout her long life, she continued to teach and was always a champion of equality in education and women’s rights.
Fifty years after she was forced to close the school, Samuel Colt and Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) pushed Connecticut to grant her a yearly pension. Garrison Keillor of “A Prairie Home Companion” traces his ancestry through Prudence Crandall, according to one of his books.