Category Archives: Framingham State Alumni

Happy Birthday Olivia Davidson Washington

Olivia Davidson Washington small

Our Connection to Tuskegee; Olivia A. Davidson, Co-founder and Educator

Olivia A. Davidson is a celebrated alum from Framingham State’s past. Born on June 11, 1854 she lived her first years of life in Mercer County, Virginia. Her father, Elias Davidson, was a freed slave and her mother, Eliza Webb, was a free black woman. The Davidson family moved to Ironton, Ohio when Olivia was three years old. It was in Ohio that Davidson received her teaching certificate at fifteen before beginning her teaching career a year later.

Hearing of need for teachers in the southern parts of the country Davidson moved south. She taught in Spencer, Mississippi and Memphis, Tennessee. One of the most notable moments of her character occurred while she was in Mississippi. One of her students came down with a case of smallpox, and Davidson closed her school to personally care for the boy until he was healthy. In Memphis she was one of the original eight teachers who taught at the Clay Street School when it opened on March 13, 1874. The school was designated for children of color and was the first brick school building in Memphis. Due to controversies surrounding the principal Davidson left the school and went on to further her own education. Upon her return to Ohio she learned of an outbreak of yellow fever, and while she asked to return as a nurse for the sick, she was denied due to never having the disease herself. Instead, she went on to the Hampton Institute, now known as Hampton University, located in Virginia.

She entered the Institute in 1878. Davidson’s tuition was paid for by Lucy Hayes, the wife of President Rutherford B. Hayes. Due to her already impressive teaching career she was enrolled as a senior and graduated a year later with honors. She delivered one of ten speeches given by students on that day. During her brief time there, Davidson also garnered the interest of Mary Hemenway, a wealthy philanthropist from Boston with a very familiar name. It was Hemenway who convinced Davidson to continue in higher education by attending the Framingham Normal School.

Before moving to the North, Davidson was told that her skin was light enough she could pretend to be a white woman and enjoy the privileges thereof. Reportedly, she refused to do so because she felt no shame in her race. Instead, she wanted to honor her people and demonstrate what an African American woman could accomplish. With her head held high, and her dignity as a black woman intact, Davidson started in Framingham on September 3, 1879 at the age of 25. Mary Hemenway paid for her expenses. She graduated two years later on June 29, 1881 as one of six honors students in her class of twenty-five graduates. She held highest honors.

Through her six years of teaching before higher education and her own academic accomplishments, Olivia Davidson became a well-respected woman in the academic community. Booker T. Washington delivered a speech during her graduation from the Hampton Institute, and upon her graduation from Framingham he reached out to her about a new project he was working on—the Tuskegee Institute. Washington asked her to join him in the founding of a school for black education, and she agreed but needed a few months to regain her health. By the end of the summer of 1881 they were working together to build the school from the ground up.

Davidson’s contributions have been overshadowed by Washington’s own fame, but he has noted her accomplishments in his autobiography Up From Slavery. He wrote, “No single individual did more toward laying the foundations of the Tuskegee Institute so as to insure the successful work that been done there than Olivia A. Davidson.” She tirelessly worked as a teacher and the first Assistant Principal to bring Tuskegee into fruition. Some of her most notable work came from her fundraising efforts. Aside from local festivals where she encouraged the community to make any sort of donation they could—money, food, or even animals—Davidson also went on several trips a year to the North. She had accumulated many wealthy peers who she counted on to donate to the school; Mary Hemenway was always a happy contributor. Her fundraising successes allowed Tuskegee to secure its permanent location and grow into what it is today.

In 1886, Davidson married Booker T. Washington after his first wife, Frannie (Smith) Washington, passed away two years prior. They were married at her sister’s house in Athens, Ohio on August 11. Davidson gracefully took on the roles of wife and step mother on top of her other duties at Tuskegee. She helped raise Portia Washington as if she were her own daughter, and gave birth to Booker Jr. on May 29, 1887 and Ernest Davidson on February 6, 1889.

Olivia Davidson died that same year her second son was born. Two days after Ernest arrived, their home caught fire due to a faulty flue. The family was not harmed, but Davidson never recovered from the exposure to the morning cold. She was moved to Montgomery and then to Boston for treatment before she died on May 9, 1889 due to tuberculosis of the larynx. Her loss was felt by every person she influenced, from her family in Ohio, to her students at Tuskegee, and her friends in Framingham and Boston.

Today we honor Olivia Davidson and recognize her stunning efforts in education for people of color. She overcame illness, racism, and great financial odds to help cultivate a place to nurture the next generation at great personal cost. As students we should all aspire to have the same work ethic as Olivia Davidson, and strive to make such an impact on the world.

Ryan Toomey – English Intern 2017

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Filed under Archives/Special Collections, Framingham State Alumni, Henry Whittemore Library, Uncategorized

Corinna Shattuck – Heroine on a Mission

Corinna Shattuck Oorfa Turkey

Corinna Shattuck was a young girl when she was orphaned. Born on April 21, 1848 in Louisville, Kentucky, Shattuck lost her father at the age of one and her mother three years later. Before her death, Shattuck’s mother moved her family consisting of a young Corinna and three more siblings to Acton, Massachusetts, her home town. The four children lived with their maternal grandparents in Acton after the loss of their mother. Shattuck’s grandparents instilled a deep religious faith which she carried with her for the rest of her life. This mixed with a strong desire to help those less fortunate than her lead her to missionary work.

Shattuck’s time at Framingham Normal School is characterized by her correspondence with Framingham alum Myra Proctor. Proctor was working as a missionary in Aintab, Turkey at the time. She had opened a school and was more than happy to write to Shattuck about her life and her mission work. Proctor became Shattuck’s inspiration. Shattuck set her sights on Turkey and after her graduation from the advanced program in 1873 that’s exactly where she went. She arrived there on August 27, 1873. In her first few years in Turkey she spent her time learning the language, adapting to the culture, and riding horseback for over one thousand miles to see the country. Shattuck had persistent health problems that sent her back to the United States in 1879 for several years. Unfortunately, she was prone to tuberculosis which limited her ability to breathe; she essentially had one functioning lung. By 1883 she resumed her work in Turkey.

Shattuck’s time in Turkey is known for several major accomplishments. In her time teaching she encountered one student, Mary Harootoonya who lost her sight. Shattuck worked to get Harootoonya into the Royal Normal College for the Blind located in London. After her return to Turkey, Harootoonya and Shattuck teamed up to build the Corinna Shattuck School for the Blind.

Shattuck had been placed in multiple locations across Turkey, and in 1892 she requested to be moved from Marash to Oorfa (present day Urfa). Her request was granted and she was moved to her new city. It was her influence in Urfa that made Shattuck particularly well known. Tensions had been on the rise in Turkey between different religious groups, particularly the Muslims and Christians. In October of 1895 Christians were confined by soldiers to a section of the city and forced to give up any weapons they may have owned. For a couple of months they were allowed to go about their daily lives. Shattuck sensing trouble requested the Turkish government for a permit to leave the city for her safety. Her permit was granted on December 28th, 1895, one hour before the Oorfa Massacre.

The Muslims and Kurds in combination with the soldiers raided the Christian section of Urfa. They attacked any Christian man they found, leaving the women and children alone unless they tried to protect their fathers and husbands. Their houses were ransacked and everything of value was stolen, even the front doors. Soldiers were posted outside of Shattuck’s door to keep the trouble out, but her neighbors jumped her fences and crowded her home. For fear of the government discovering how many people she was hiding, Shattuck moved the men to a nearby Protestant church to hide until the attack was over, and she provided sanctuary to their wives and children.

By the end of it all the death toll was in the thousands. A Georgian church was set on fire with three thousand people trapped inside. The soldiers inspected Shattuck’s home for any fugitives, and satisfied in not finding any men they departed without any trouble. That night Corinna Shattuck saved the lives of over three hundred people.

After the massacre there were hundreds of orphans and widows. Shattuck’s heart broke for the orphans, especially as someone who was orphaned herself. Seeing the rising desperation around her Shattuck got to work. She adopted over 150 orphans and started several new institutions. She began by teaching the young girls and the widows how to sew and embroider. Shattuck found a wholesale company in Ireland that helped her sell the products her girls were making, and the business became a surprising success. The extra profit allowed her to expand her operations to include three homes for the children. The boys were in charge of the vineyards, making shoes, and in their off time the local tradesmen taught them carpentry, tailoring, and the like. To her credit, Shattuck allowed all ethnic groups to her homes. This helped ease some of the religious tensions and eliminate some prejudice amongst the children. At its height, her operation employed over two thousand people.

All of this success built a reputation for Shattuck. She became known for settling disputes and facing government officials with a cool head. In an interesting turn of events, an Arab man named Ibrahim Pasha sent his horsemen to attack Shattuck’s farms. Angry at the men for trying to hurt her students she took to a horse herself and rode to Pasha’s settlement. There she waited until he finally opened his tent for her. What was said when she officially met with him is unknown, but by the time she rode back to Urfa Pasha had sworn his eternal protection for her farms. After this incident she was used as a mediator for any other disputes that occurred near Urfa.

Shattuck dedicated over thirty years of her life to her work in Turkey. By 1910 her sickness was overwhelming her and she left Turkey to seek treatment back in the US. She made it to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and from there she was sent to Cullis Consumptives’ Home. She lived out her final days in the Cullis Home where she died on May 22, 1910 at the age of 62. Shattuck’s impact on the lives on her students in Turkey is undeniable. In a time of terror, she sheltered them. In a time of turmoil, she gave them food and a home. When raiders appeared in the hills she sent them flying away. Here is a woman who should make us proud to be a part Framingham.

          Photo Courtesy of Independent Association of Framingham State Alumni

Written by,
2017 English Intern

Ryan Toomey

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Filed under Archives/Special Collections, Framingham State Alumni, guest blogger, Henry Whittemore Library