Meet Six Strong Black Women who were “First Ever”
[ A Caroline Digital History Project collaboration with the Black Eastern Shore Project. Text, image, and sources from Black Women’s History on the Eastern Shore are republished here with permission. ]
The first female preacher of the A.M.E. Church came to save Caroline’s white slaveholders.
Jarena Lee (1783-1849) was the first female preacher of the African Methodist Church. While not an Eastern Shore native, she traveled extensively on the Eastern Shore, ministering at the Denton African Church and Methodist churches in Easton, Centreville, and Greensborough (now Greensboro). She traveled over 1600 miles on the Shore, including walking over 200 miles. She faced adversity as a female preacher, but she persisted. She authored The Life and Religious Experience of Jarena Lee (1836, ed. 1849).
Source: Compass Points (2014) (pgs. 172-174)
Further information: Lee’s Six Months in Maryland from her autobiography.
The first woman “Supervisor of Colored Schools” in Caroline County set high goals for schools and inspired the community to support her cause.
Lucretia Kennard Daniels (1871-1933) supported the black community’s public education system in Caroline and Queen Anne’s counties for 30 years. She taught Domestic Science and served as the Supervisor of Caroline County Colored Schools for 10 years before teaching at Princess Anne Academy (University of Maryland Eastern Shore), and then returned to work as Supervisor of Queen Anne’s County Colored Schools. During her time on the shore, she added Negro History to the school curriculums, extended the school program from Grade 7 to Grade 9, initiated Homemaking Fairs for parents to share their skills, and introduced parent-teacher associations to schools. Daniels worked tirelessly to improve black education, including updating the black high school in QA at that time, Centreville Colored Industrial High School, by raising funds to construct a new school. In 1936, this new school was named in honor or Mrs. Daniels, called Kennard High school.
Sources: Compass Points, (2014) (pgs. 33-35), “History of Kennard Elementary School”
Further Information: Kennard Cultural Heritage Center
The first woman President of NAACP got her start in Denton.
The first woman president of the NAACP, Dr. Enolia P. McMillan, started her professional career as a teacher in Caroline County in 1927, when she taught at the Denton segregated black high school.
The following year, she served as a school principal in Charles County. She moved on to Columbia University, where she obtained her master’s degree in education in 1933. Her master’s thesis, Some Factors Affecting Secondary Education for Negroes in Maryland Counties (Excluding Baltimore), attacked Maryland’s racist dual school system in the 1930s.
After the 1954 Supreme Court ruling outlawing segregated public schools, McMillan was one of the first black teachers at a white school. She retired from teaching in 1968 and was elected president of the Baltimore NAACP in 1969. She was elected as the first woman president of the NAACP in 1984 and served until 1990. Dr. McMillan died in 2006 at age 102.
(Sources: Wikipedia cites a Baltimore Sun article for the reference to Dr. McMillan teaching in Denton in Caroline County. The source for that fact is apparently Dr. McMillan’s granddaughter, Dr. Tiffany Beth McMillan Mfume.)
She led the first grass-roots civil rights movement outside of the Deep South.
Gloria Richardson Dandridge (1922) Dandridge moved to Cambridge when she was 6, where her mother’s family, the St. Clairs, were local and politically active. After attending Howard University, where Dandridge was a student activist, she later returned to the Eastern Shore. She challenged school segregation with her daughter Donna, as they and other black students attempted to integrate Cambridge High School in 1962. She became more involved in the movement, eventually becoming the leader of the Cambridge Nonviolent Action Committee (CNAC), a local chapter of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) organization. The CNAC demanded integration of all public institutions, fair hiring practices, public housing, and other basic human rights denied to blacks in the city. This led many protests and demonstrations. Local whites responded with violence per usual and the National Guard was called in from 1963 to 1964. The Cambridge movement was the first grass-roots civil rights movement outside of the Deep South. Gloria moved to New York in 1964. February 11 is now Gloria Richardson Day in Maryland.
Source: Compass Points (2014) (223-225)
Further information: SNCC Digital, The Struggle Is Eternal: Gloria Richardson and Black Liberation (2018)
The first black woman principal on the Eastern Shore was a Caroline County native.
Edythe M. Jolley (1901-?) was from Caroline (her mother was a Preston native) and Dorchester counties where her father also taught when she was growing up. Her teaching career began at St. Clair High School in Dorchester County in 1930. She taught and was the principal for 13 years at St. Clair. Jolley then went on to serve as the principal of Maces Lane High School for another 28 years. She was the first black woman principal on the Eastern Shore and possibly, the state of Maryland.
Source: Compass Points (2017) (92-93)
Further information: Maces Lane Community Center / Edythe M. Jolley Museum and Cultural Center
A great-great-granddaughter organized the first Harriet Tubman Day.
Addie Clash Travers (1910-1994), a Cambridge native, was a descendent of Harriet Tubman, and she organized the first Harriet Tubman Day back in 1967. The celebration was first held at historic Bazzel African Methodist Episcopal Church, in Bucktown, Md. While Harriet Tubman’s life and accomplishments may be popular now with more recognition from the local and state governments, back then, Travers worked hard to honor her ancestor. Travers was one of the original founders of the Harriet Tubman Association and It is because of her early efforts that we now have two museums, a byway tour, a mural, and more public recognition acknowledging the life and times of Harriet Tubman.
Source: Compass Points (2017) (221-222).