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.