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An Exponential Education: The Early Students of Hartshorn Memorial College

March 27, 2017
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“Students 1892”

From 1883 until its 1932 merger with Virginia Union University, Hartshorn Memorial College served as Richmond’s premier (and only) school (both high school and college Booze3level) for African American women. As the first place of higher education specifically for African American women, its students combated the prejudice against educating Black Americans and against educating women. These brave Black women worked hard for their place in the world.

The alumni of Hartshorn include such notables as the civic organizer, Bessye B. Bearden, author/librarian Constance Hill Marteena, musician Revella Eudosia Hughes, and missionary/educator Eva Roberta Coles Boone. However, the vast majority of the graduates have gone unnoticed despite the fact that they made up the vanguard of African American education in the United States as some of the first Black college educated teachers.

These women not only pursued their own education in a difficult era, but then dedicated their lives to providing an education to others. Many of the early photographs that remain from Hartshorn are unlabeled, so it is very seldom that we can match a name to the faces

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Booze’s Essay “Uses of Beauty”

of these educational pioneers but every so often a story or two emerges.

One of those stories is that of Mary Moore Booze Reaves, a typical student of the early years of Hartshorn. One of the few remaining records that remain from Hartshorn is a notebook of English essays from 1888. The beautifully handwritten essays written by eleven students cover a wide range of topics from “The Means by Which the Colored People Will Win Their Place” to  “Hygiene and Health” and “Honesty in the Teacher and in the Pupil”. (The author of the latter does not seem to agree with her own teacher’s methods).

In the midst of these essays is one entitled “The Uses of Beauty” by Mary M. Booze. The essay opines how there are many types of beauty. Starting with physical beauty but also “beauty in actions, motives and religion” and their effect on our lives and understanding of God. Booze’s examination record shows a firm grasp of Algebra, Latin, and Geometry. Competent in Logic, Caesar and Cicero, and Physics but perhaps not so keen on

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Booze’s Examination Record

Trigonometry.

Regardless of Trig, Booze was one of three women who were awarded the first degrees from Hartshorn in 1892, receiving a Bachelor’s of Science. Classes had been graduating since 1885, but the school was not approved to award diplomas until 1892.

Booze, like many of her classmates before and after, turned to teaching. It was one of the few careers available to Black women at the time but

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Raleigh Herald, April 11, 1912

that does not mean it was of any less importance. Boone passed the West Virginia teaching examination and in 1907 became the first teacher of the first school for Black children in Beckley, West Virginia. As well as Statton High School, the first Black high school in the area, and the West Virginia Colored Institute  (now West Virginia State University). For many years, an elementary school in Beckley bore her name. She was called a “pillar of education”. In 1935, a year before her death, a newspaper article named her and her school as one of “many advantages [the county] offers to negro citizens”.

She never stopped learning herself. She was part of the West Virginia Teacher’s Association and attended conferences and classes where she listened but also presented on topics such as “Use of Stories in Teaching”.

It is almost incomprehensible to try to wrap one’s head around how many students Mary Booze exponentially effected. By setting up these schools she became the direct teacher of hundreds of students, who then in turn went off and taught others and so forth until the present day and into the future. S0 many of these women are lost to history and it’s in honor of them all that we introduce you to Mary Booze.

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“Hartshorn Memorial College Graduates and teachers 1891-1892”


Sources:

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