Today, our featured Black Educator is Maria L. Baldwin.
Maria Louise Baldwin was born in 1856 in Massachusetts. She graduated from Cambridge High School in 1874 and the city’s teacher training school a year later. She was encouraged to go teach in the south, “to…work for those with more limited educational opportunities.” She taught for seven years in Maryland after graduation, before returning to Cambridge to teach primary grades for the Cambridge Public Schools – thanks to the advocacy of Black residents. She was the first Black public school teacher in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Baldwin taught at the Agassiz school for 8 years before reluctantly becoming principal in 1889. In 1916, Baldwin was made master of the school. A Black person being a school master was unheard of and Baldwin was only one of two women in the district who held the position and the only Black person in New England to hold the position. In addition to those accomplishments, Baldwin organized the first Parent-Teacher group in the Cambridge Public Schools, introduced new methods of teaching mathematics, began art classes, redesigned classrooms and other learning spaces, and inspired the beginning of a museum of science program within the school system.
A “teacher’s work [is] more sacred than that of a minister.”
Baldwin continued with her own studies by taking courses at Harvard. She also gave of her knowledge, training prospective teachers at Hampton University and the Institute for Colored Youth in Philadelphia (The African Institute/Cheyney University).
Baldwin was highly regarded by her contemporaries, including W.E.B. DuBois. He said of Baldwin and her school:
The school [Agassiz] composed of kindergartners and eighth grades, is one of the best in the city and is attended by children of Harvard professors and many of the old Cambridge families.
The teachers under Miss Baldwin, numbering twelve, and the 410 children are all white. Miss Baldwin thus, without a doubt, occupies the most distinguished position achieved by a person of Negro descent in the teaching world of America, outside cities where there are segregated schools.
Baldwin was an eduactivist, speaking out against racism and poverty, challenging racism and pushing for voting rights. An essay she penned, Votes for Teachers, was published in The Crisis, the NAACP’s official magazine. She was also a founding board member of the NAACP.
In one of Baldwin’s speeches, ‘The Teacher in Social Reform,” she described the work of teachers as “more sacred than that of a minister,” and that “children should always be given the closest attention by teachers because of the latent possibilities in their young lives.”
The 1916 Agassiz School building was torn down in 1993, and in 1995, a new Agassiz School building was dedicated. On February 12, 2004, this school was officially renamed the Maria L. Baldwin School.
Baldwin is an example of an educator dedicated to education. Her attention to detail concerning teaching and learning is something to be replicated in every educator’s practice. Baldwin’s life is a reminder that doing the job of education well is the transformative work necessary to change lives and societies.
Maria L. Baldwin; a member of the Black Educator Hall of Fame.
For more information on Maria L. Baldwin, visit the following site.