Prudence Crandall was a teacher in the 19th century who worked to further women’s suffrage and to provide equal educational opportunities for women from different races and backgrounds. She was born on September 3, 1803 in Hopkinton, Rhode Island to a Quaker family of farmers. .Her parents were Pardon Crandall and Esther Carpenter. When Prudence was 10 years old, her family moved to Canterbury, Connecticut. She attended the New England Friends Boarding School in Providence for a few years and also taught at a school in Plainfield, Connecticut for a short time.
In 1831, a few Connecticut citizens asked Prudence Crandall to organize a school for girls. Crandall agreed to take on this task and her school for girls functioned successfully until a controversy arose in 1832. The cause of the problem was the admission of Sarah Harris, daughter of a prosperous local African-American family. Several parents opposed Crandall’s decision to admit a student of color and some of them withdrew their daughters from the school. Crandall, however, remained steadfast and went on to announce that her school was now going to be a teacher-training institute for African-American girls. This roused extreme opposition in the town. Some people refused to sell food to the school and Crandall was banned from the church.
In 1833, Connecticut passed the “Black Law” that prohibited any Connecticut school from admitting African American students from outside the state. Crandall paid no heed to the Black Law and was arrested in 1833. She was tried and convicted but in July 1834 the conviction was reversed. The continued attacks on the school forced Crandall to close it down in 1834. After closing the school, Crandall married the Rev. Calvin Philleo, a Baptist minister and a widower with three children. Crandall’s marriage was an unhappy one and in 1842 she set out on her own to Troy Grove, Illinois. There she opened a school, the Philleo Academy. Her school soon gained local fame and Crandall continued to pursue her interests in temperance, women suffrage and spiritualism. In 1886, the Connecticut General Assembly voted to award her a small life pension to compensate for the “cruel outrage” inflicted on her. Crandall died of influenza in Elk Falls, Kansas in 1890.
The Crandall papers were given to Connecticut College by Helen Earle Sellers, also known as Helen Earle Gilbert, who was writing a biography of Crandall at the time of her death in 1951.