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Grand Rapids in 1856

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Hattie Beverly

Hattie Beverly

GRHC - March 17th, 2010

Glance at the Past celebrates Women's History Month. Today, meet Grand Rapids' first African-American teacher.



Born in Milwaukee in 1874 to a Dutch mother and African American father, Hattie Beverly grew up in Grand Rapids to become the first African American teacher in the public schools. Beverly graduated from Central High School in 1895 with an emphasis in Preparatory English. Like other large school systems at that time, the Grand Rapids Public Schools trained many of its own elementary school teachers.

In 1897 Beverly became the first African American to enter the teacher cadet-training program. When she completed her training in January 1899, the Grand Rapids Herald reported that "Miss Beverly may not receive a position, although [she is] bright, ambitious and a graduate of the training school." A special meeting was called to determine whether an African American should be permitted to teach white children. Reasonable voices prevailed, and in June 1899 Beverly was hired to teach at Congress Elementary School.

Three years later in 1902, Hattie married Major Elliot Robinson and resigned from her position. At the same time she began suffering from complications of tuberculosis she had contracted in her youth. A stay in a New Mexico sanitarium failed to improve her health and she died late in 1904, leaving a young daughter.

Hattie Beverly's life and teaching career were tragically brief; but she is remembered today as a model, and every year the Grand Rapids Community College gives an outstanding educator award in Hattie Beverly's name. Beverly's sister Ethel trained in the Grand Rapids kindergarten teaching program, but it was seventeen years before another African American, Theola Ford, taught for the public schools. Still, Ethel Beverly's son and Hattie's nephew, John Burgess, benefited from their examples and in 1964 became the first African-American diocesan bishop in the Episcopal Church.


Full Details

TitleHattie Beverly
KeywordsGlance at the Past, teacher, Hattie Beverly, school, public, African-American, radio, WYCE, Grand Rapids, Historical Commission,Podcast
Pubdate StringMarch 17th, 2010

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