Getting An Education – Fearless Females

What education did your mother receive? Your grandmothers? Great-grandmothers? Note any advanced degrees or special achievements.

On My Maternal Side
My 3X great grandmother, Annie Williams,  was born about 1820 in Virginia into slavery. According to the 1880 Census, when she was about 60, she spoke English and could not read or write.

Eliza - my 2x great grandmother

Her daughter, my 2X great grandmother, Eliza Williams Allen, was born in Alabama about 1839 into slavery. She was freed by 1860. According to the 1910 census, she was about 67, spoke English and could not read or write

"Jennie Allen Turner in hat"
Jennie - my greatgrandmother

Her daughter, my great grandmother, Jennie Allen Turner was born free in Montgomery, Alabama in 1866. According to the 1880 Census, she was 13 years old, had attended school in the past year, spoke English and was literate.  I found one of my favorite books at her house “Lydia of the Pines.”

Fannie - my maternal grandmother

 Her daughter, my Grandmother Fannie Mae Turner Graham, was born in 1888 in Lowndes County, Alabama. She grew up in Montgomery. According to the 1900 census, she was 11 years old, at school, spoke English and was literate. My mother told me that when Fannie graduated from high school – State Normal, was offered a scholarship to Fisk but refused it and took a job in her uncles store, which she managed until she married in 1918. Also according to my mother, Fannie could quickly add long columns of numbers in her head.

Doris - my mother

My mother , Doris Graham Cleage,  was born in Detroit in 1923. She graduated from Eastern High School in Detroit and received a full scholarship to Wayne State  where she earned a BA with distinction as a Sociology major in June/1944. She returned to school in 1951 and earned teaching certification. In 1958 she became a masters candidate in education, completing her Master’s of Education Degree in the fall of 1958.  She took postmasters classes in education during a sabbatical in 1963. She also took evening classes  in 1968, when I was a senior at Wayne State.

My great grandmother, Emma Jones Turner (My grandmother Fannie’s paternal grandmother) was born about 1840 in South Carolina into slavery.  According to the 1880, 1900 and 1910 census she spoke English and was literate. I wish I knew more about her. I never heard a story about her. After my grandmother’s father was killed when she was 4 years old, her mother broke all ties with her husband’s family.

On My Paternal Side

Celia - my great grandmother

My great grandmother Celia Rice Cleage Sherman was my grandfather’s mother. She was born about 1855 into slavery in Virginia and brought to Tennessee as a child. She was about 10 when freedom came. In the 1880 census she could neither read nor write. By the 1930 census she spoke English and could read but could not write.  I wonder if my grandfather or his siblings taught her to read when they went to school.

My 2X great grandmother, Clara Green was born into slavery about 1829 in Kentucky. She was my grandmother Pearl Reed Cleage’s grandmother. In the 1880 census she was listed as about 55, spoke English and could not read or write.

Her daughter, my great grandmother Anna Allen Reed  was born  about 1849 in Kentucky into slavery.   According to the 1910 Census she spoke English but could not read or write. Anna’s four older children were illiterate while the four youngest were literate.

Pearl - my paternal grandmother

Her youngest daughter, my grandmother Pearl Reed Cleage was born in Lebanon, Kentucky in 1886. In the 1900 census she was 16 and where it says if you were or were not in school it says “Book 1” I don’t know what that means.  At any rate she was literate and spoke English. My Aunt Barbara told me she finished high school. I remember my grandparent’s house being full of books.



9 thoughts on “Getting An Education – Fearless Females

  1. When I first started working in banking in Detroit, I was a teller at the Grosse Pointe Bank soon after the National Bank of Detroit took them over. The man who was the head teller had the ability to take a long list of numbers and would slide his finger down the list until he reached the bottom. These would be long lists of checks. When he reached the bottom of the list, he would write down the total. Some of us would then run the list on an adding machine, but he was never wrong. He would have been a little younger than your grandmother — but definitely in that age group. Amazing how they could do that.

    I graduated with my BS from Wayne State in 1964. I was with Bank of the Commonwealth by then.

      1. Yes it was. In fact, almost all of my BA was financed by the GI Bill. Took me a long time, though, I could only attend classes at night after work. I was “all school” back then. Study at night — study on the weekends — but finally made it in ’64.

  2. This is a wonderful tribute to the women in your family. Great grandma Celia probably used every opportunity to come her way to learn to read, including learning with her children.

    1. I wonder what made her do i but the others didn’t. After I finished, I was thinking about that and also thinking I’d like to go back and say what educational levels their husbands and children had, especially the children.

  3. Kristin, this is a wonderful write up about the fearless women in your family tree. The photos of each one is gorgeous too! Thanks for this chance to celebrate them with you!

  4. This is a really fascinating post which tells us so much about history, politics and society above and beyond what it tells us about your particular family. You make me want to delve into the educational background of my own family and see what I find. Which means that your post really is inspiring.

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