Howland, Emily (1827–1929)

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Howland, Emily (1827–1929)

American educator, reformer, and philanthropist. Born on November 20, 1827, in Cayuga County, New York; died on June 29, 1929, in Cayuga County, New York; the second of three children and only daughter of Slocum Howland (a merchant) and Hannah (Tallcot) Howland; attended Miss Susanna Marriott's home school, Aurora, New York; attended Poplar Ridge Seminary, Poplar Ridge, New York; never married; no children.

Born in 1827 in Cayuga County, New York, Emily Howland was raised in a devout Quaker family and educated in local schools. When she was 16, she left school to take over the household chores from her ailing mother. Bored by domesticity, she sought refuge in painting and the study of French, but her frustration remained so acute that she once signed a letter "Emily Howling!" In 1888, recalling her childhood in a letter to a friend, Howland characterized herself as "a little girl who played too little and who thought too much."

Howland finally found a sense of purpose in the antislavery movement. In 1857, she moved to Washington, D.C., to fill in for the ailing Myrtilla Miner as principal of the Washington School for Colored Girls. For two years, she ran the school with one African-American assistant, returning home a changed woman. In 1863, when the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation brought thousands of freed slaves North, she returned to Washington, teaching and providing medical assistance at the various freedmen's camps set up around the city. Early in 1867, when it became apparent that the government would not fulfill its promise to grant land to each freed slave, she persuaded her father to buy 400 acres in Heathville, Virginia, where she began relocating former slave families and established a school. She remained there until August 1867, when she was called home again to care for her mother in her final illness.

After her mother's death, Howland remained in New York, living in the family home at Sherwood for the rest of her life. Her interest in education was now served through philanthropy. In 1882, she financed an enlargement of the local Sherwood Select School, a Quaker institution which she continued to support until it was taken over by the state of New York in 1927. She also continued to fund the Heathville, Virginia, school for over 50 years, until it too was taken over by the state. Her philanthropy extended to an additional 30 educational institutions for blacks in the South. She took a particular interest in Tuskegee Institute, founded by Booker T. Washington, who was a personal friend. Howland was also a champion of the women's rights movement, and was president of her local suffrage society. She was a regular delegate at the conventions of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, and supported temperance and peace movements as well.

Growing somewhat lame and deaf with age, Howland remained vigorous. At age 99, she traveled to Albany to receive an honorary degree from the University of the State of New York, in recognition of her service to education. She died at Sherwood in 1929, having reached the age of 101.


James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women, 1607–1950. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971.

McHenry, Robert, ed. Famous American Women. NY: Dover, 1983.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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Howland, Emily (1827–1929)

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