A. Bronson Alcott and classroom integration

10 Sep

Hello SK fans,

We have a lot to cover today and we’re going to try and make it brief. Fifty-one years ago today, Sept. 10, 1963, My Pub was 9 months old and eating solid food and hasn’t stopped eating yet, and … wait, that’s not where we are going.

Fifty-one years ago today, President John F. Kennedy ordered the National Guard to intervene at a high school in Alabama so nine black students could attend their classes.

Students Dorothy Bridget DAvis, 16 and Henry Hobdy, 17, are barred from entering their high school in Alabama on this day in 1963 because they are black.

Students Dorothy Bridget Davis, 16 and Henry Hobdy, 17, are barred from entering their high school in Alabama on this day in 1963 because they are black.

You see, the day before, Alabama Gov. George Wallace decided that he would overrule the Federal mandate allowing all students access to public education, regardless of their color, ethnicity, etc. He ordered patrols to block the doors so these students could not enter their schools. JFK answered by sending the National Guard in. Wallace got the message, and on Sept. 10, the students were allowed to attend classes. They endured several racist encounters during their pursuit of academia, which we will not cover here. It is however, a shame, that anyone be denied education for any reason.

Among the first education reformers, A. Bronson Alcott.

Among the first education reformers, A. Bronson Alcott.

I bring up this incident because it parallels something that happened to my father A. Bronson Alcott, when he was running the schools in Boston back in the mid 1830s. My father, known as one of the first Education Reformers, encouraged debate, discussion, recess, access to books for his tiny pupils, as well as furnishings designed to fit 6 to 12-year-olds comfortably. Before he designed child-sized versions of desks and tables, children as young as 5 had to endure hours sitting on backless wooden benches we so often associate with early school houses.

My father had a full enrollment of children who loved learning and a roster of wealthy parents happy to pay their tuition at his progressive educational institutions.

My dad was also an abolitionist and an idealist and a colorblind one at that. He could tell the difference between red, brown and green but not black and white. Whenever he looked at a human being, he did not see blue eyes, brown hair, short stature or skin color. He only saw a person. So, he thought nothing of welcoming little Susan Robinson, a black child, into his schoolroom.

He was mystified when suddenly parents withdrew their students. Within days, class size dwindled from 30 something to four, which consisted of me, my sister Anna (Meg in Little Women) a boy who lived with us and Susan. Within weeks, my father was bankrupt and had to close his latest school. He never recovered financially. However, he never gave up his philosophy that all children are entitled to an education, no matter where they come from or who they are.

I’d like to credit A. Bronson Alcott with being among the first to integrate classrooms, something that is, at last, mainstream today.

Hope you enjoyed today’s history lesson in education and racism, xo LMA


14 Responses to “A. Bronson Alcott and classroom integration”

  1. Carol Jamison September 10, 2014 at 8:02 am #

    Another great post, Ms. Alcatt! Thank for the reminder and the history lesson…one I think we all need to try to remember.

    • Louisa May Alcatt September 10, 2014 at 8:43 am #

      thanks Carol, yes, it’s a shame that armed forces need to be called in so everyone has equal access to education. a bit overkill, don’t you think? LMA

  2. sued51 September 10, 2014 at 8:22 am #

    Great post! What an amazing father Louisa had…no wonder she was who she was!

    • Louisa May Alcatt September 10, 2014 at 8:44 am #

      Yes, A. Bronson encouraged the genius in all his students. xo LMA

  3. soonie2 September 10, 2014 at 8:39 am #

    a great man, way ahead of his time! wonderful post, as always!

    • Louisa May Alcatt September 10, 2014 at 8:45 am #

      Thank you, Soonie2. it was a pleasure to write and remind everyone how far education has come., xo LMA

  4. onespoiledcat September 10, 2014 at 9:03 am #

    How very proud you must be………I’ve always seen PEOPLE and not COLORS……!


    • Louisa May Alcatt September 10, 2014 at 5:16 pm #

      We like the way you think. Yes. Very proud of my dad. Sadly his ideas were not embraced until long after he died xo LMA

  5. Bruce Thiesen September 11, 2014 at 8:29 am #

    A. Bronson had a good thing going with Temple. What a sad thing, for everyone involved, that people couldn’t go along with him.

    • Louisa May Alcatt September 14, 2014 at 12:31 pm #

      They may have ruined his school, but they never stole his ideals. My father never denied anyone an opportunity to learn even if it meant a few lessons here and there in our parlor. I am very proud of him, xo

  6. bernecho September 11, 2014 at 12:41 pm #

    Now if we could make education equal without the factors of income, gender and social status (the other blindness) what a feat we would have accomplished. The world needs for men like your dad today. Good history lesson.

    • Louisa May Alcatt September 14, 2014 at 12:32 pm #

      So true Mimi, it is disheartening to see the barriers that stand between an individual and an education. Thank your for reading and commenting. xo, LMA

  7. LB September 14, 2014 at 4:26 pm #

    All these years later, it infuriates that people could be so awful to other people. ARG!
    So glad there were those like A. Bronson Alcott who were brave enough to go against convention. I’m sorry that he never recovered finanacially

    • Louisa May Alcatt September 18, 2014 at 7:09 am #

      Hi LB, don’t worry about Bronson. I took care of him and everybody else with my writing royalties. Seriously, women can do anything, even support a family in an era that did not recognize working women or women as breadwinners, xo LMA

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