Every day this month, the Center for Black Educator Development, in partnership with Phillys7thWard.org and Citizen Ed, will highlight a Black Educator Hall of Famer. But, don’t forget, e’ry month is Black History Month…February is just the Blackest.
Today, our featured Black Educator is Cornelia Bowen.
Cornelia Bowen was born in Tuskegee, Alabama on December 31, 1869. The cabin where she was born would become part of the property that became Tuskegee Institute. She attained a bachelor’s degree from Straight College in New Orleans and later, earned a master’s degree from Battle Creek College with a thesis entitled Juvenile Crime Among Negroes in Alabama.
As a child, Bowen was taught by a white woman who knew her mother; teaching her how to read before she began her formal training in the schools in Tuskegee. Bowen then attended the Tuskegee Public School system along with her sisters. Once the school for Blacks students closed down – Zion Hill School – Bowen continued her education at the Tuskegee Institute.
Bowen was taught by Booker T. Washington.
She graduated from Tuskegee Institute in 1885; Bowen was part of the first graduating class. After graduation, she became principal of the campus training school, later known as the Children’s House; resigning because she wanted to pursue “a broader field of usefulness.”
At the suggestion of Booker T. Washington, Bowen went on to lead the Mt. Meigs School in Mt. Meigs, Alabama—a school built on the Tuskegee model for the community. Because many in the community were illiterate, Bowen first organized a Sunday school to teach them scriptures and then went door-to-door meeting the families in the community to establish a rapport and recruit the mothers into meeting to learn about child rearing. According to Bowen:
“I began first of all to connect myself with the Sunday-school and taught there every Sunday.
I organized a large class of the older people and encouraged them in every way to attend the Sunday-school every Sunday with the children. None of these mothers or fathers could read or write…
I have kept this class of older people together, and it is one of the most active ones of all. We have studied together many other things aside from the Sunday-school lessons, and it has been necessary to do so, because the people have none of the opportunities provided for those who live in the towns and cities.
I was early much encouraged to note that my efforts were appreciated by the people.”
Bowen created a community center, where she taught women and girls cooking, housekeeping and sewing, as well as instilling child-raising skills, grooming, exercise and nutrition. She also taught the men and boys to be better husbands, farmers and the benefits of ownership of their own land.
In addition to educating, Bowen served in various positions within civic and educational organizations including the Afro-American Women’s League, the Alabama State Colored Women’s Federated Clubs and the Alabama Negro Teacher’s Association.
Corneila Bowen, a member of the Black Educator Hall of Fame.
For more information on Cornelia Bowen, visit the following site.