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Tue, 03.03.1863

The Normal School for Colored Girls, (Washington D.C.) Opens

*The Normal School for Colored Girls was chartered on this date in 1863.  

Now known as the University of the District of Columbia, it was established in Washington, D.C., as an institution of learning and training for young Black women, especially to train teachers.  The school was founded in 1851 by Myrtilla Miner with encouragement from Henry Ward Beecher and funding from a Quaker philanthropist after the school in Mississippi where she taught refused her permission to conduct classes for African American girls. 

While inappropriate today, the term "colored" was considered polite in 19th-century speech. However, some sources refer to the school as the "Miner School for Girls."  Although the school offered primary schooling and classes in domestic skills, its emphasis from the outset was on training teachers. Miner stressed hygiene and nature study in addition to rigorous academic training. Within two months of opening, school enrollment grew from 6 to 40.

Despite hostility from a portion of the community, the school prospered with the help of continued contributions from Quakers and a gift from Harriet Beecher Stowe (sister of Beecher) of $1,000 of the royalties she earned from Uncle Tom's Cabin.  As it grew, the school was forced to move three times in its first two years, but in 1854 it settled on a 3-acre (1.2-hectare) lot with a house and barn on the edge of the city. Around this time, Emily Edmonson enrolled in the school. To help protect the school and those involved, the Edmonson family took up residence on the grounds, and both Emily Edmonson and Myrtilla Miner learned to shoot.

In 1856 the school came under the care of a board of trustees, among whom were Beecher and wealthy Quaker Johns Hopkins. By 1858 six former students were teaching in schools of their own. By that time, Miner's connection with the school had been lessened by her failing health, and from 1857 Emily Howland was in charge. In 1860 the school had to be closed, and Myrtilla Miner went to California the next year to regain her health.  

On March 3, 1863, the United States Senate granted the school a charter as the "Institution for the Education of Colored Youth" and named Henry Addison, John C. Underwood, George C. Abbott, William H. Channing, Nancy M. Johnson, and Myrtilla Miner as directors.  A carriage accident ended that hope of Miner’s health improvement; she died shortly after her return to Washington, D.C., on December 17, 1864.  From 1871 to 1876, the school was associated with Howard University. In 1879, as Miner Normal School, it became part of the District of Columbia public school system.  In 1929 an act of the U.S. Congress accredited it as Miner Teachers College. Miner Teachers College and its predecessors were instrumental in developing the Black school system in the district between the 1890s and the 1950s. They held a virtual monopoly on teaching jobs in Black schools during that time period.

Many graduates found jobs in Black school districts in other parts of the country, expanding the influence of the Miner school outside the district. As Miner Normal School, it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  In 1955 the school merged with Wilson Teachers College to form the District of Columbia Teachers College. In 1976, after additional incorporation, the school was renamed the University of the District of Columbia.  

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