Oxford AASC: Photo Essay

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PHOTO ESSAY

The Faces of the African American National Biography

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Katy Ferguson (1779?–1854)

Photograph courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

Born a slave on a schooner sailing from Virginia to New York, Katy Ferguson's freedom was purchased for 200 dollars by a sympathetic member of the church attended by Ferguson. Married at eighteen and widowed before the age of twenty, Ferguson had two children, both of whom died young. Working as a religion instructor for black and white children, around 1814, a white minister invited her to move her activities from her home to the basement of his church, where it became known as the Murray Street Sabbath School. At this first modern Sunday school in Manhattan she taught students from the streets of New York, white and black, some from poorhouses, some unwed mothers. Ferguson thus set the precedent for the activist Ionia Whipper, who founded a school for unwed mothers in Washington, D.C., in 1931. Ferguson died of cholera in New York City. In 1920 her memory was honored with the establishment of the Katy Ferguson Home for Unwed Mothers, supported by private benefactors.

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