In this exciting period of celebrating African-American and black pacesetters and firsts, one must endeavour to identify the women whose achievements and contributions have yielded the present.
Lucy Stanton is one of such women. She is the first African-American woman to graduate from a four-year college education but her story is more than that.
Stanton was born a free child in 1831 to Margaret and Samuel Stanton in Ohio. The American Civil War between 1861 and 1865 initiated the freedom of black slaves countrywide but even hitherto, Ohio was a free state for blacks.
Stanton’s father died when she was only a year and a half. Her mother then married John Brown, an abolitionist known for his efforts with the Underground Railroad.
Stanton’s stepfather’s mission to free slaves certainly rubbed off her as she would also grow to become an abolitionist too. But not before chalking a historic first.
Stanton’s place as the first black woman with a traditional college education is tentative because if there were others before her, historians have no record to prove.
Stanton started out at the Ohio Free School set up by her stepfather to learn how to read and write. At 15, she continued at Oberlin College, then Oberlin Collegiate Institute.
The school was one of America’s earliest that admitted both black men and women. Founded by Presbyterian ministers in 1833, Oberlin would be described 180 years later by a researcher, as “the most progressive college in the United States” back then.
After entering in 1846, Stanton graduated in 1850 having studied what was known as the “ladies course”, a literary programme that did not include advanced mathematics, Greek and Latin that men were offered.
At Oberlin, Stanton rose to attention becoming the president of the Ladies’ Literary Society. Her abolition sentiments were also known, having delivered a speech titled, A Plea for the Oppressed.
In the speech, Stanton called for mass involvement in the struggle against slavery.
Stanton said: “The colored man is still crushed by the weight of oppression. He may possess talents of the highest order, yet for him is no path of fame or distinction opened. He can never hope to attain those privileges while his brethren remain enslaved. Since, therefore, the freedom of the slave and the gaining of our rights, social and political, are inseparably connected, let all the friends of humanity plead for those who may not plead their own cause.”
She called slavery “the combination of all crime” and encouraged women to join the abolition movement.
Stanton walked her words. She is on record to have moved to Georgia and Mississippi teaching young black children to read and write after the civil war.
In the late 1800s, Stanton joined hands with a number of Christian organisations who offered help to poor black women.
In 1904, she opened the Sojourner Truth Industrial Club to offer assistance to black women who migrated to Los Angeles.
Stanton’s achievements are in fact not only limited to her anti-slavery and abolition work. She is also the first black woman to have published a work of fiction, having written the story, “Charles and Clara Hays” for black-owned newspaper The Alienated American.
Stanton’s place among the pantheon of trailblazers is uncontested. She is an inspiring model for black people everywhere.