Education

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What school for young women stressed social graces in its academic program?

On October 10, 1902, the Alice Freeman Palmer Institute opened in Sedalia, North Carolina, with Charlotte Hawkins Brown (1883–1961) as founder. The school was named in honor of Brown’s friend and benefactor, with monies raised from Northern white philanthropists. Along with academic subjects, the Palmer Institute stressed industrial and vocational education, and cultural courses. It also focused on secondary and postsecondary components and attracted students from all across the nation. The school enjoyed the reputation of a finishing school for African Americans and was one of the nation’s leading preparatory schools. Brown, who was born Lottie Hawkins, was a Henderson, North Carolina, native who moved with her family to Cambridge, Massachusetts, in search of better social and educational opportunities. She attended a two-year normal school in Salem, Massachusetts, and in 1901 was offered a teaching position at Bethany Institute which the American Missionary Association founded in Sedalia, near McLeansville, North Carolina. The school closed at the end of the year, when the AMA closed its one- and two-room schools. The Sedalia community urged Brown to remain, which was her impetus to interrupt her education and start a school of her own. Later on she studied at Harvard University and Wellesley and Simmons Colleges. In 1922 her school, Palmer Memorial Institute, graduated its first accredited high school class. Brown became a national leader on race issues and in the black women’s club movement.



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