September 3: Prudence Crandall, Teacher and Prophetic Witness, 1890

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About this commemoration

 Born to a Quaker family in Rhode Island in 1803, Prudence Crandall was educated in arithmetic, the sciences, and Latin at the New England Friend’s Boarding School in Rhode Island. The Quakers, or “Friends,” believed that women should be educated, and it was in the environment of the Friend’s Boarding School that Prudence Crandall’s passion for teaching was first awakened. In 1831, Crandall started a girl’s school in Canterbury, Connecticut, where she educated the daughters of the town’s wealthy families. In 1833 she admitted to her school a young African American girl named Sarah Harris. Harris wanted an education so that she could in turn teach other African American children. The parents of the white children at Crandall’s school were outraged and demanded Harris’s expulsion, but Crandall refused and decided to open a new school for African American girls.

 Despite repeated attempts by town members to close the school, and even threats to destroy it, Crandall persevered in her labors. She enlisted the help of William Lloyd Garrison, editor of The Liberator, the nation’s major antislavery newspaper. Through his paper and advocacy, Garrison spread awareness of her cause all over the nation. However, later in 1833, the state legislature passed the so-called “Black Law,” which made it a crime to open a school that taught black children from any state other than Connecticut. Crandall, who had received pupils from other states, was arrested, jailed, and tried. She was eventually convicted, but a higher court reversed the decision. Far from subsiding, the harassment she endured grew worse, and, fearing for the safety of her students, she closed her school in 1834. After her husband died in 1874, Crandall moved to Elk Falls, Kansas. In 1886 the Connecticut stage legislature awarded her a pension. In a petition signed by more than a hundred citizens of that state, many expressed their regret and shame over her treatment. Mark Twain attempted to persuade the state to buy back her original home in Canterbury. Prudence Crandall died in 1890, and today she is recognized as the official State Heroine of Connecticut.


I. God, the wellspring of justice and strength: We thank thee for raising up in Prudence Crandall a belief in education and a resolute will to teach girls of every color and race, that alongside her they might take their place in working for the nurture and well-being of all society, undaunted by prejudice or adversity. Grant that we, following her example, may participate in the work of building up the human family in Christ, thy Word and Wisdom; who with thee and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

II.  God, the wellspring of justice and strength: We thank you for raising up in Prudence Crandall a belief in education and a resolute will to teach girls of every color and race, that alongside her they might take their place in working for the nurture and well-being of all society, undaunted by prejudice or adversity. Grant that we, following her example, may participate in the work of building up the human family in Christ, your Word and Wisdom; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Habakkuk 3:16–19

Acts 24:10–21

Luke 9:62–10:2



 Preface of a Saint (2)

Text From Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.
 We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?

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19 thoughts on “September 3: Prudence Crandall, Teacher and Prophetic Witness, 1890

  1. She needs a ‘who she is’ and ‘why she is important’ statement.

    Again, the reluctance to choose one term and stick with it for the entire bio is noticeable.
    ‘… she admitted to her school a young African American girl …’ (note caps)
    ‘… teach other African American children.’
    ‘… open a new school for African American girls.’
    ‘…to open a school fhat taught black children …’

    Bios in HWHM should be consistent in usage. Is it African American? African-American? black? Black?

  2. (I don’t intend to make this a practice, because the stories of our saints are often moving and frequently educational, but I had never heard of Prudence Crandall until working on this bio. What a fine Christian woman! Perhaps PBS could make a documentary of her life… Thanks to SCLM for including her in the proposed calendar.)

    In line 2 of the fifth paragraph, amend “stage” to read “state”.

    We are left wondering if Mark Twain succeeded, although it seems likely that if he did we’d be so informed. If my guess is correct, it would be helpful to add “(unsuccessfully)” after “attempted” in line 5 of the fifth paragraph.

  3. She certainly is someone who deserves to be remembered, but for a church commemoration the relationship between her faith and her living needs to be made explicit. She did say she was taught as a child that slavery was a sin, and that this motivated her to think about how she could help; even this much would be worth adding, although I would hope that those who know her story better would be able to say more.

    • There is a small amount of source material online about Prudence Crandall: And there is biographical material of varying quality as well.

      Given the hostility, hatred and violence she encountered in her efforts to teach young African American woman on par with wealthy white young women, if Prudence Crandall had been made of less faith and determination that she was, she would have quite a whole lot sooner than she did.

  4. A Quaker who married a Baptist minister? She’s a great lady, but well-recognized as a secular hero by civil authorities. I want to be persuaded she belongs in our calendar anyway, but the life as given and what little else I could find in a quick Google search, doesn’t do it. You’ve almost convinced me that William Lloyd Garrison should get the date instead.
    The scripture readings all seem off target — she did in fact turn back, having once set her hand to the plow. Too bad the Bible has no passages about welcoming the stranger, helping those of other tribes, teaching children wisdom, sending prophets to a stiff-necked people who may not listen, or other themes that leap out of her story.
    I second the comments on African American/African-American/black/Black: pick one and stick with it.

  5. The house in Canterbury, Connecticut where Prudence Crandall opened her school for African American girls is a museum. The museum has a website:

    Prudence Crandall’s husband Calvin Philleo was a Baptist minister. Because she married outside the meeting she was excluded from the Society of Friends. After leaving Connecticut and then New York, apparently the Philleos settled in LaSalle County, Illinois on farm. Mrs. Philleo opened a school there. She also worked for Women’s Suffrage and the Temperance movement. The $400 a year pension awared by the state of Connecticut offered Mrs. Philleo some financial security the last few years of her life.

  6. Note to the webmaster: The postings of the bios (I think only this month) do not delineate the paragraphs found in the publication HWHM. Is there any way that the bios can be posted with their paragraphs delineated? That would be helpful when commenting on specific details in the bio.

  7. A second thought: if having tried but failed to run a school for “colored” children (sorry, but it’s the only variant that hasn’t been tried above) in antebellum Connecticuit earns Crandall a place in the calendar, what about Thomas J. Jackson, professor of physics and artillery at VMI, who founded and maintained a school for slaves and freed slaves antebellum Virginia? He was even — albeit briefly — an Episcopalian.

  8. Prudence Crandall Philleo is best remembered for her efforts to education young African American women in Canterbury, Connecticut. This effort failed after the passage of “Black Laws” and community violence against her school and home. After that she lived in obscurity until she received a pension from the state of Connecticut for $400 a year, passed in April, 1886. This was an official indemnification by the State of Connecticut to try to erase its part in ugly and sinful actions of the mid 1830s.

    During those years of obscurity, Prudence Crandall Philleo started a school on her farm in Illinois. She worked against slavery, for women’s rights, for temperance and for prohibition.

    It is her religious beliefs which concern me. Though she was born a member of the Society of Friends, she was excluded when she married outside of the meeting. During her work for the school for Black young women, she came under the influence of the Unitarian, Samuel May. Sometime later in life, Prudence Crandall Philleo became involved with Spiritualism and this is my primary concern with her inclusion. Though I do not know exactly what Prudence Crandall Philleo’s exact beliefs were, most Spiritualists deny the divinity of Jesus Christ and deny the authority of the Bible.

    There seems to be little question that her work to establish quality education for Black young women grew out of her Quaker beliefs in the equality of all humanity before God, and a remarkable strength of character in the fact of violence. I am concerned about where her subsequent life does raise many questions as the appropriateness of her inclusion.

    I am confused by Steve Lusk’s remark about Thomas J. Jackson. The only man that I can think of with that name was the Confederate general, Thomas J. (Stonewall) Jackson. Mr. Lusk, are you suggesting that he be included among those commemorated in the liturgical calendar?

  9. Re: TJ Jackson. Confused? It is indeed Stonewall Jackson to whom Steve is referring. I think that Steve would concede that his intended gentle sarcasm doesn’t translate well in the blogosphere.

    Nonetheless, I would add my voice to those above that though Ms. Crandall’s original portrait hangs in nearby Cornell University’s Art Gallery, I wonder if her ecclesial connections are appropriate enough to include in HWHM. She is honored in the State of Connecticut (see various online sources) – but perhaps this opens the door for the other 49 to contribute a favorite daughter or favorite son for inclusion as well.

    In some respects this is a pattern for many of the ‘new’ commemorations. That is … each denomination with whom we have an ecumenical partnership has its commemorations, each religious order has its commemoration, each seminary (including my own) has its commemoration, several organizations have their commemoration, etc. etc..

    What is the guiding pattern for the persons offered for Trial Use? I have read the ‘Principles of Revision’ (page 742-744) carefully and I still don’t understand.

  10. Re: “The Quakers, or “Friends,” believed…”

    Instead of the one word reference to “Friends,” could we give them the honor of using the longer name of “The Religious Society of Friends”? I looked up “Society of Friends” on Google and found fairly consistent use of this five word title.

  11. Re: Re: TJ Jackson. Confused? The Rev. Michael Hartney wrote: “It is indeed Stonewall Jackson to whom Steve is referring. I think that Steve would concede that his intended gentle sarcasm doesn’t translate well in the blogosphere.” Perhaps we need a little :smiley: for those whose lack of sense of humor miss the point.

    If you check with the Yearly Meetings, the full title is Religious Soceity of Friends, though the term Quaker no longer has any negative connotation for Friends.

  12. I thought I was being gently IRONIC, but that’s the downside to writing (see Phaedrus 274 et.seq,).
    Like Michael, I confess to a growing confusion as to what pattern or standard governs the choice of “saints.” Why is Louis IX in, but Stonewall Jackson apparently unthinkable? Why Charles Chapman Grafton but not Richard Channing Moore and William Meade (“the Ezra and Nehemiah” of the Diocese of Virginia)? Thomas Bradbury Chandler (Tory) but not John Peter Gabriel Muhlenberg (Patriot)?
    I am mildly haunted by the thought that had the Venerable Bede applied what seem to be HWHM’s standards, we would never have heard of Columba and Aiden, who posthumously found themselves on the wrong side at the Synod of Whitby.
    And, by the way, making Aiden and Cuthbert share a date is a bad idea. It produces a feast of the institution of Lindisfarne, rather than a celebration of a saint. The shift was the straw for our Curate, who began his homily on St. Aiden by saying, “I’ve been using this new book for three weeks and have come to despise it. I’m going back to Lesser Feasts ’06.”

  13. “Prophetic Witness” – When is it apropos in the titles?
    Since this blog began in July, we’ve had commemorations that designate honorees as “Prophetic Witnesses” for many kinds of work. July had 6 so designated. Other months vary from none (March, June, August and November) to one so designated (Jan 3, Oct 30, Dec 17), two (April 5 & 30, May 10 & 13, September 3 & 27a) or three (February 5, 20 & 26).
    Every Christian is expected to “witness.” That each is called to witness is expressed explicitly in the Prayers for the Candidates, in the liturgy for Holy Baptism that prays, “Send them into the world in witness to your love” (BCP p. 306). Other parts of that service may not use the word “witness,” but clearly imply it, e.g., “Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?” At the end of Holy Eucharist II (post-communion prayer, p. 366) the same expectation is prayed by all : “send us out … to love and serve you as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord.” The Catechism also clearly includes witnessing to Christ as part of the ministry of the laity: [laity are to]“…bear witness to him wherever they may be” (BCP p. 855).
    This would put the emphasis in the phrase “prophetic witness” not on “witness,” since witnessing is part of everyone’s calling, but on “prophetic,” describing what uniquely expresses someone’s outstanding contribution. What are we saying when we specifically affirm a person’s service as “prophetic” witness? What does HWHM mean by “prophetic”?
    The late theologian, Richard Norris in “The Business of All Believers: Reflections on Leadership” (edited by Timothy F. Sedgwick) says about prophecy, “Prophecy too is a divine gift – the gift, we may suspect, of insight into the mystery of God’s redemptive plan. There are, then, at least two things which are distinctive about apostles and prophets. One is that they speak out of a direct encounter with the truth they proclaim; the other is that the truth they proclaim is in fact the reality that constitutes the church” (p. 65). My discomfort with the designation “prophetic witness” as used in HWHM arises when the person commemorated is outstanding for an ETHICAL/SOCIETAL issue or reform but we leave unaddressed a larger context of “insight into the mystery of God’s redemptive plan,” or we leave unaddressed any connection with “the reality that constitutes the church.” There are no OT prophets who confined their prophetic interest only to social reforms as such, and not to the Word of YHWH.
    To be sure, some (even many) of those in HWHM deserve the term “prophetic,” in Norris’ sense of the word. Others may be monumental figures of ethical and societal advance but may have seen no corresponding religious or spiritual context for their work, or may have seen Christianity merely as a justification for their interest but had too narrow a grasp of the Gospel to see it in the context of the “new life” made possible in Christ. They might well be described as reformers, leaders, activists, organizers, or other terms, but should not, it seems to me, specifically be called “prophetic“ witnesses. =====================================================================================
    January 3, Passavant, Prophetic Witness. Worked to insure the Gospel would bear fruit in society.
    February 5, Williams and Hutchinson, Prophetic Witnesses. Advocated for religious toleration, and for the separation of civil power from the expectations of and abuse by religious institutions.
    February 20, Douglass, Prophetic Witness. Worked to abolish slavery, establish integration, and for churches to own up to their responsibility to God and to oppressed people in these matters.
    February 26, Morgan, Prophetic Witness. Helped found SCHC to foster religious devotions and social justice. Special concern with working women and their daughters.
    April 5, Ramabai, Prophetic Witness and Evangelist in India. This woman exceeds my ability to summarize. She did everything for women and grounded it in her religious faith.
    April 30,Hale, Editor and Prophetic Witness. Advocate for women and civil empowerment, mostly through her literary work.
    May 10, Zinzendorf, Prophetic Witness. Used his political position for ecumenical and devotional development. Moravian Church pioneer, hymn writer.
    May 13, Perkins, Public Servant and Prophetic Witness. Influential in national and state government, used her influence for the needs of the country and its people.
    July 1, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Writer and Prophetic Witness. Critic of slavery.
    July 2, Rauchenbusch, Gladden & Riis, Prophetic Witnesses. Raised public consciousness about institutionalized impoverishment of workers, victimization by crime, advanced social gospel ideals.
    July 6, John Hus, Prophetic Witness and Martyr. Worked to rid the Church of abuses of power.
    July 20, Stanton, Bloomer, Truth & Tubman, Liberators and Prophets. Raised public consciousness about wrongs perpetrated on women and slaves by Church and society (on many fronts).
    July 21, Albert Lithuli, Prophetic Witness in South Africa. Leader in non-violent struggle against apartheid, uniting Zulu culture and Christian-democratic culture of Europe.
    July 30, Wilberforce, Ashley-Cooper, Prophetic Witnesses. Opposed slavery & slave trafficking. Advocates for factory workers especially children. Opponents of many social evils.
    September 3 ,Crandall, Teacher and Prophetic Witness. Worked heroically for education of girls of all races.
    September 27a, Vincent de Paul, Religious & Prophetic Witness. Worked heroically for the poor, the sick, and to correct a deficient Church.
    October 30, Wyclif, Priest and Prophetic Witness. Theologian, critic of abuses in the Church, translated Bible into English for use by all.
    December 17, Garrison and Stewart, Prophetic Witnesses. Anti-slavery advocates, founder and writers for the chief abolitionist magazine in the country.

  14. I know nothinng except what you printed, but she seems to have been a significant person. I was totally unfamiliar with this lady until her name appeared in Holy Women Holy Men. I have live in Connecticut for years but never heard her name mentioned, so I assume that has not been a local celebration of he feast.

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