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Date of Award


Access Type

Campus Access

Document type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

Afro-American Studies

First Advisor

Manisha Sinha

Second Advisor

John Bracey Jr

Third Advisor

Amilcar Shabazz

Subject Categories

African American Studies | Other History | Women's Studies


During the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, academies and seminaries sprang up throughout America, but these institutions excluded African Americans. Around the same time, mobs began destroying schools for African Americans in various cities and towns in the free states and territories. Aware of this struggle over black education, quite a few African American and white women began to mobilize. This dissertation asks why African American and white women joined the struggle for black education and what they thought, said, and did to advance black education at a time of heightened racial hostility in the antebellum North. Drawing on historical methods and feminist theory, this dissertation shows that women were in the vanguard of black education during the antebellum era.

Some of the women studied in this dissertation are Maria Stewart, Sarah Mapps Douglass, Prudence Crandall, Hannah Barker, Laura Haviland, Mary Ann Shadd Cary, Mary Miles Bibb, and Harriet Jacobs. These women educators pursued a range of initiatives, including building primary and secondary schools, establishing voluntary associations, organizing and fundraising, joining the teaching profession, and writing education-themed narratives, to secure educational opportunities for African Americans. Regardless of the particular vehicle for their educational work, some African American and white women educators organized and campaigned to promote equity in American education and to assert the changing status of African Americans in the nation.

This study also situates women's activism within the broader movement to abolish slavery, which allows for an analysis of the various discourses on African American education that circulated in the antebellum era. Following the lead of African Americans, women antislavery activists argued that education could help to overthrow the institution of slavery. Hence some women worked to build and strengthen alliances across race, gender, and class lines in order to realize a more inclusive and democratic nation. By examining women's activism in the struggle for black education, this dissertation renders a dynamic representation of African American and white women as agents and thinkers in the fight against caste, oppression, and slavery.