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Sarah Jane Woodson Early

February is Black History Month. Sarah Jane Woodson Early (November 15, 1825 – August 1907), was “an American educator, black nationalist, temperance activist and author.” Her parents relocated to the free state of Ohio in 1820 after purchasing the whole family's freedom for $900. Her father maintained that he was the oldest son of Sally Hemings and President Thomas Jefferson. They founded the first black Methodist church west of the Alleghenies. In 1830 the Woodsons were among the founders of “a separate black farming community called Berlin Crossroads.” Her father and some brothers became black nationalists, which influenced Sarah Woodson's activism. The community was an important spot on the Underground Rail Road.

Early graduated a classics major from Oberlin College, and was hired at Wilberforce University in 1858. She was the first female African American college instructor and the first African-American female to teach at a historically black college or university (HBCU). After marrying in 1868 and moving to Tennessee with her minister husband Jordan Winston Early, Woodson began teaching in a new post civil war school for black girls established by the Freedmen's Bureau in Hillsboro, North Carolina. “Though millions of black Southerners began to move to the North after the Civil War to escape violence in the South, Woodson was determined to educate the children of the freedmen” as did many Oberlin alumni of both races.Later, Early served as National Superintendent (1888–1892) of the black division of the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). She authored a biography of her husband, chronicling his rise from slavery, and was one of five (5) women featured as speakers at the World's Congress of Representative Women in Chicago (1893). Her speech was entitled "The Organized Efforts of the Colored Women of the South to Improve Their Condition."

Early's long and distinguished career ended with her death at the age of 82.


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