Mellon Scholar Ashley Dennis

Fun in the Sun Archives: Preparing for Graduate School at the Library Company of Philadelphia

In a series of occasional blog posts, participants in our Mellon Scholars Internship and Workshop programs will introduce themselves, discuss their experiences at the Library Company, and share their goals for pursuing careers in the field of early African American history. This program is generously funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

The Mellon Scholars Internship Program at the Library Company presented an indispensable opportunity to hone the archival skills necessary to achieve my academic goals. Likewise, the chance to strengthen my writing and presentation skills by producing an original research paper and sharing my research with others attracted me to this program. Although I plan to specialize in 20th-century African American history in graduate school, I understand that the events and intellectual ideas in one century are not independent of those in the previous one. Therefore, I welcomed the opportunity to learn about early African American society from historic documents and from leading scholars in the field during this program. The Mellon Scholars Internship Program exceeded all of my expectations.

My career goals include teaching at a research intensive university while making significant interventions in the study of black education in the urban North. I look forward to understanding the complexities of educational inequality not just in terms of race, but also in terms of gender and class. My hope as a future professor is to partner with women, faculty of color, and allies in addition to helping students advance their own goals.

A significant portion of my time at the Library Company was spent researching black women educators in Philadelphia in the antebellum period.

From Pennsylvania Abolition Society. Statistics of the Colored People of Philadelphia (Philadelphia, 1856).

From Pennsylvania Abolition Society. Statistics of the
Colored People of Philadelphia (Philadelphia, 1856).

I focused on the contributions of Sarah Mapps Douglass (1806-1882) and Fanny Jackson Coppin (1837-1913) toward uplifting the black race by providing free blacks with education. Both women had ties to the Institute for Colored Youth, where black pupils received instruction equal, if not superior, to white children in their community, complete with lessons in the Classics, arithmetic, the sciences, and English. These women taught young black girls at a time when literacy was illegal in the South and slave catchers threatened the freedom of black people in the North; yet, these black women educators were convinced in the humanity and high intellectual capacity of their people. I have consulted several primary sources from the Library’s collection, such as Statistics of the Colored People of Philadelphia (1856), which was published by the Pennsylvania Abolition Society’s Board of Education. The Objects and Regulations of the Institute for Colored Youth, with a List of the Officers and Students and the Annual Report of the Board of Managers from the 1860s have also been very helpful to my research. I feel more prepared to commence doctoral study this fall.

Ashley Dennis
2016 Mellon Scholars Intern

The Library Company of Philadelphia
1314 Locust St., Philadelphia, PA 19107
TEL 215-546-3181 FAX 215-546-5167

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