There are many examples of African American educators who have made an indelible mark on their communities through their tireless and selfless work in schools. One such amazing teacher is Lucy Addison, a public school teacher from Roanoke, Virginia.
Lucy was born the daughter of slaves in Upperville, Fauquier County, Virginia, on December 8, 1861. After her parents were emancipated by the Civil War, her father purchased a farm where he raised his family. As a young girl, Lucy attended the Institute for Colored Youth, a private school in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, that boasted an entirely African American faculty. She graduated with her teaching degree in 1882.
Lucy began her teaching career in Loudoun County, Virginia. In 1886, she transferred to First Ward Colored School in Roanoke, Virginia. The following year, the principal of the school passed away, and for the next year Lucy served as the interim director. She continued in this role until 1888, when a new school was built and a male principal hired. Lucy then served as both a teacher and an assistant principal for the school in the decade that followed. Miss Addison, as she was known, was prim and proper in appearance, but all considered her fair and approachable.
In 1918, the veteran teacher was named the principal of the newly-built Harrison School, which at that time offered classes only through the eighth grade. In those years, Roanoke’s African American students were not able to earn a high school diploma. By gradually introducing new coursework, Lucy eventually created a full high-school curriculum. The State Board of Education recognized her tireless efforts in 1924 by accrediting the Harrison School as a secondary school.
Lucy retired from the teaching profession in 1927 and moved to Washington, DC. In January, 1928, the Roanoke City School Board announced that a new high school for African Americans would be named in the former educator’s honor. On April 19, 1929, Lucy attended the formal opening of Lucy Addison High School, the first public building named for one of Roanoke’s own citizens. Lucy passed away from chronic nephritis on November 13, 1937, in Washington, DC. She was 75 years old. In 2011, this remarkable educator was honored by the Library of Virginia as one of the state’s Women in History.
To read more about Lucy Addison, see Virginia Women in History or Encyclopedia Virginia.