Chalkboard Champion Maritcha Remond Lyons: Educator, Abolitionist, and Humanitarian

Maritcha2American history abounds with stories about teachers who have accomplished heroic achievements. One such teacher is Maritcha Remond Lyons, an African American woman who served the New York City public school system for forty-eight years. She was also an accomplished musician, an avid writer, and a published author.

Maritcha was born on May 23, 1848, in New York City, the third of five children born to parents Albro and Mary (Marshall) Lyons. She was raised in New York’s free black community, where her father operated a boarding house and outfitting store for black sailors on the docks of New York’s Lower East Side. Her parents emphasized the importance of making the best of oneself, and they also modeled the significance of helping others.

A sickly child, Maritcha was nevertheless dedicated to gaining an education. Maritcha once said she harbored a “love of study for study’s sake.” She was enrolled in Colored School Number 3 in Manhattan, which was governed by Charles Reason, a former teacher at the Institute for Colored Youth in Philadelphia.

Maritcha’s parents were abolitionists, and were both active in the Underground Railroad. Obviously, these activities were not without dangers. The family home came under attack several times during the New York City Draft Riots of July, 1863, when Maritcha was just a teenager. The family escaped to safety in Salem, Massachusetts, but after the danger passed, her parents insisted on sending their children to lie in Providence, Rhode Island. In Providence, Maritcha was refused enrollment in the local high school because she was African American. Because there was no school for black students, her parents sued the state of Rhode Island and won their case, helping to end segregation in that state. When she graduated, Maritcha was the first black student to graduate from Providence High School.

After her high school graduation, Maritcha returned to New York, where she enrolled in Brooklyn Institute to study music and languages, When she graduated in 1869, she accepted a teaching position at one of Brooklyn’s first schools for African American students, Colored School Number 1.

Maritcha’s worked first as an elementary school teacher, then as an assistant principal, and finally as a principal. During her nearly fifty-year career, she co-founded the White Rose Mission in Manhattan’s San Juan Hill District, which provided resources to migrants from the South and immigrants from the West Indies.

This remarkable chalkboard hero passed away at the age of eighty on January 28, 1929.


Elaine Goodale Eastman: The New England Teacher that Advocated for Her Native American Students

imgresElaine Goodale Eastman, originally from Massachusetts, was a talented teacher who established a day school on a Sioux Indian reservation in the territory of South Dakota. She believed very strongly that it was best to keep Native American children at home rather than transport them far away from their families to Indian boarding schools. She hadn’t taught on the reservation very long when she was promoted to the position of Superintendent of Indian Education for the Two Dakotas. In this capacity, she travelled throughout the five Dakota reservations, visiting the more than sixty government and missionary schools within her jurisdiction, writing detailed evaluation reports on each school she visited.

It was because of her work that Elaine just happened to be visiting the Pine Ridge Reservation when the tragic Wounded Knee Massacre took place. As a result of this tragedy, more than two hundred men, women, and children from the Lakota tribe were killed, and another fifty-one were wounded. In addition, twenty-five government soldiers were also killed, most by “friendly fire,” and another thirty-nine were wounded. Following the massacre, she and her fiance,  physician Charles Eastman of the Santee Sioux tribe, cared for the survivors and wrote detailed government reports to accurately describe what happened.

In her later years, when America was experiencing a back-to-nature revival, Elaine and her husband operated Indian-themed summer camps in New Hampshire. Read more of the life story of this fascinating educator in Theodore D. Sargent’s biography The Life of Elaine Goodale Eastmanor an encapsulated version in  Chalkboard Champions: Twelve Remarkable Teachers Who Educated America’s Disenfranchised Students, both available on amazon.


Annie Blanton: Texas Teacher and Politician

imgresI find stories about teachers engaged in political activity fascinating. One of the most interesting of these stories is that of Annie Webb Blanton, a teacher and suffragist who also just happens to be the first woman in Texas elected to statewide office.

Annie was born on August 19, 1870, in Houston, one of seven children of Thomas Lindsay and Eugenia (Webb) Blanton. Her twin sister, Fannie, died as a child. As a young girl, Annie attended school in Houston and La Grange. After graduating from La Grange High School in 1886, she taught in a rural school in Fayette County. When her father died in 1888, Annie relocated  to Austin, where she taught in both elementary and secondary schools. As she worked to support herself, Annie continued her studies at the University of Texas, where she graduated in 1899.

Shortly after her graduation from college, Annie was selected to serve on the English faculty of North Texas State Normal college, now known as the University of North Texas. She served in this capacity from 1901 to 1918. While there, she became active in the Texas State Teachers Association. She earned a reputation for being a strong believer in equal rights for women. During this time she also wrote a series of grammar textbooks. In 1916, Annie was elected president of the teacher’s union, the first woman to occupy the position.

In 1917 Texas suffragists found a strong supporter  in Governor William P. Hobby, so they through their considerable energy into his  1918 bid for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. In that election, the suffragists also  encouraged  Annie  to run for the office of  state superintendent of public instruction. The campaign was a bitter one, with false accusations made against the veteran teacherr, but in the 1918 primary, Texas women were allowed to vote for the first time, so Annie was elected by a wide margin. Her victory in the general election in November made her the first woman in Texas elected to statewide office.

During her tenure as state superintendent, Annie inaugurated a  system of free textbooks, revised teacher certification laws, raised teachers’ salaries, and made improvements to  rural education. Annie was reelected in November 1920, when voters also passed the Better Schools Amendment, which she had proposed as a means of removing constitutional limitations on tax rates for local school districts. She served as state superintendent through 1922.

When  her term ended, Annie  returned to the University of Texas, where she received her master’s degree in 1923. She taught in the UT education department until 1926, then took a leave of absence to earn her Ph.D. from Cornell University. After returning to the University of Texas in 1927, she remained a professor of education there for the rest of her life.

During her lifetime, Annie published a number of books about education, including Review Outline and Exercises in English Grammar (1903), A Handbook of Information as to Education in Texas (1922), Advanced English Grammar (1928), and The Child of the Texas One-Teacher School (1936). In 1929 she founded the Delta Kappa Gamma society, an honorary society for women teachers, which in 1988 had an international membership of 162,000. She also was active in national educational groups and served as a vice president in the National Education Association in 1917, 1919, and 1921.

Annie Blanton never married, and she had no children of her own. She died in Austin on October 2, 1945, and was buried in Oakwood Cemetery. Public schools are named for her in Austin, Dallas, and Odessa, and a women’s dormitory at the University of Texas at Austin has also been named after her.

Annie Blanton: a true chalkboard champion.

Gladys Kamakuokalani Brandt: A Chalkboard Champion for Native Hawaiian Culture

brandtThis beautiful lady is teacher Gladys Kamakuokalani Brandt, a Native Hawaiian old enough to have attended the funeral services in 1917 of Queen Liliuokalani, the last reining monarch of Hawaii, and still young enough to witness the unprovoked attack upon Pearl Harbor in 1941 which precipitated World War II. Gladys began her career as a teacher, working in public schools and eventually becoming an instructor at the prestigious Kamehameha Schools, a private institution set up to educate Native Hawaiian students.

As a youngster, Gladys was deeply ashamed of her Hawaiian heritage, so much so that she rubbed her face with lemon juice to lighten her complexion. By the time she became the principal of Kamehameha Schools, however, she had resolved to fight tirelessly for the inclusion of courses to preserve Native Hawaiian culture. She supported instruction in Hawaiian language, song, and the controversial standing hula dance which had been forbidden by the school’s trustees. The story of her work is an inspirational one.

Equally inspirational is the story of the dedication and sacrifice of Hawaii’s teachers in the days and weeks following the bombing. From serving as ambulance drivers, setting up shelters for survivors, teaching their students how to use gas masks, taking their students into the sugar cane fields to harvest the crops, and re-establishing some semblance of order for their students when school resumed, their deeds are truly remarkable. You can read about Gladys and her fellow Hawaiian teachers in my first book, Chalkboard Champions: Twelve Remarkable Teachers Who Educated America’s Disenfranchised Students.

New York’s Julia Richman: The Chalkboard Champion of European Jewish Immigrants

richman[1]Julia Richman was a truly remarkable educator of the late 1800s. The daughter of Jewish immigrant parents, Julia declared at a surprisingly early age that she would reject the traditional role of wife and mother and opt for a career in teaching instead.

At 15, Julia enrolled in college courses at New York City’s Female Normal College, the precursor to Hunter College, graduating fourth in her class in 1872. She then devoted the next forty years of her life to teaching and improving the lives of the Jewish immigrant students who were entrusted to her care, first as their teacher, later as a principal, and finally as a district superintendent.

During her tenure, Julia Richman pioneered innovative programs for handicapped students, English-language learners, and troubled youth, and she instituted vocational education programs and much-needed courses in health and hygiene. Many of her innovations are common practice in schools throughout the country today. In addition to her work in the schools, Julia worked indefatigably to better the lives of New York’s Eastern European immigrants through the Educational Alliance, the most important Jewish charitable organization located in Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

A wonderful book about Julia Richman was recently published by scholar Selma Cantor Berrol; the book is entitled Julia Richman: A Notable Woman. You can find this book on the web site for Barnes and Noble and also on I have also devoted a chapter of my book, Chalkboard Champions, to this most extraordinary educator. My book can be found at at the following link: