Baldwin, Maria Louise (1856–1922)

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Baldwin, Maria Louise (1856–1922)

American educator and first black woman to hold the post of master in a school in New England. Name variations: Mollie. Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on September 13, 1856; died in Boston, Massachusetts,on January 9, 1922; oldest of two daughters and a son of Peter L. (a letter carrier) and Mary E. Baldwin; attended Sargent Primary School and Allston Grammar School in Cambridge, Massachusetts; graduated from Cambridge High School, 1874; graduated from Cambridge training school for teachers.

During the oppressive age in American history when black women held few positions of authority, Maria Louise Baldwin became the only black woman to hold the position of master of a public school in New England, and perhaps the only one in the nation to have charge of a primarily white faculty and student body. A respected figure to generations of students and parents, Baldwin was a leading social and intellectual figure in the progressive community of Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Born into a modest family in Cambridge, Baldwin was educated through college in the Cambridge schools. Before beginning her 40-year association with Cambridge's Agassiz School—named for the great scientist Louis Agassiz—she taught in Chestertown, Maryland, for two years. After teaching every grade from first to the seventh at Agassiz, in 1889 Baldwin was appointed principal. Unsure of her ability, she struck a deal with the Board of Education that, if the new post did not work out, she would be allowed to return to the classroom.

In 1916, Baldwin participated in the expansion of the school to include higher grades, and at that time was made master of the institution's 12 teachers and 500 students. Remaining a student herself, she continued to take courses at nearby Harvard University, as well as other colleges. She was active in several organizations of black women and was a popular lecturer across the country. An extensive reader, Baldwin had a large personal library, which she shared with weekly reading classes in her home on Prospect Street. In 1897, she had become the first woman to deliver the Washington's Birthday address to the Brooklyn Institute, and chose for her subject "The Life and Services of the late Harriet Beecher Stowe."

On January 9, 1922, while making a speech at the Copley Plaza hotel in Boston, Baldwin collapsed and died suddenly of the heart disease that had plagued her later years. Her body lay in state in Boston for two days so that friends and students could pay their respects. The Agassiz school established a scholarship in her honor and named the school auditorium Baldwin Hall. The class of 1922—the last class she taught—presented the school with a tablet in her memory, while the Cambridge Chronicle paid tribute to her life noting, "She has left to all whose lives touched hers the memory of a rare and radiant nature, the keynote of whose character was service."

suggested reading:

Brawley, Benjamin G. Negro Builders and Heroes. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1937.

Lerner, Gerda, ed. Black Women in White America. NY: Pantheon Books, 1972.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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Baldwin, Maria Louise (1856–1922)

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