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NEPC Talks Education: Discussing Black Women and Educational Activism in Antebellum America

BOULDER, CO (February 18, 2021) – In this month’s episode of the NEPC Talks Education podcast, NEPC Researcher Christopher Saldaña interviews Dr. Kabria Baumgartner about her book In Pursuit of Knowledge: Black Women and Educational Activism in Antebellum America. Baumgartner is an assistant professor of American studies, a faculty member in the Women’s Studies Program, and a faculty affiliate in the History Department at the University of New Hampshire. Her work focuses on the social and political realities that have shaped African American activism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Saldaña and Baumgartner discuss the educational experience and educational activism of Black women in the northern Antebellum America. Professor Baumgartner explains that her own experiences motivated her interest in understanding what it meant to be a Black women “in pursuit of knowledge” prior to the civil war. In In Pursuit of Knowledge, she shows how, despite deep-rooted racism and resistance, Black women acquired educational opportunity, moved into important community advocacy positions, enacted educational change, and ultimately, established greater educational opportunity for future generations of Black students.

Baumgartner recounts the challenges she faced in uncovering the histories of Black women in Antebellum America. She explains, for example, that 19th century record keepers often neglected to maintain the historical records of Black women because they were deemed unimportant. However, through a careful analysis of letters, diary entries, and other written records, Baumgartner pieced together elaborate histories of the educational experiences of Black women. She tells, for example, the history of Sarah Harris and Prudence Crandall, who together integrated the Canterbury Female Seminary in 1833. According to Baumgartner, this was a watershed event in the history of Black women’s educational activism because the racially integrated female seminary became an early center for a network of Black female activism that grew throughout the northern U.S.

Although they faced racial violence and resistance, Black women adopted a range of protest strategies to enact educational change. Baumgartner notes that Black women wrote editorials, engaged in public speaking, organized and distributed petitions, filed litigation to outlaw segregation, took up educational opportunities, and instilled in their children and students values such as kindness, industry, and self-discipline that would prepare them to lift up their communities in the future.

A new NEPC Talks Education podcast episode, hosted by Christopher Saldaña, will be released each month from September through May. 

Don’t worry if you miss a month. All episodes are archived on the NEPC website and can be found here.

NEPC podcast episodes are also available on Apple PodcastsSpotify, and Stitcher, under the title NEPC Talks Education. Subscribe and follow!

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), a university research center housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit us at: