Sarah Curtis

Sarah Curtis was a confectioner at a bakery on South Front Street. It is unclear whether or not she was indentured. She was married to Lewis Curtis who worked as a shoemaker. The 1850 United States Federal Census lists both Sarah and Lewis as “Persons over 20 years of age who cannot read & write.” The Curtises were born at the turn of the nineteenth century in Virginia, a state that only offered free education for African Americans after the Civil War. They must have moved to Philadelphia, knowing that their children would have better opportunities in the city, home to one of the largest populations of free Blacks in the nineteenth century.

The 1830s conventions focused on the necessity of education and its role in racial uplift. African American parents were willing to work long hours, knowing that their efforts would yield better opportunities for their children. Although the Curtises were deprived of schooling, their sons, George and William, were not. At a young age, the two children were listed as literate, which indicates that their parents invested in their sons' education. George Curtis worked as a coachman for at least two decades. He married Isabella, a free woman born in Pennsylvania, and had two children, whom he also sent to school.


"Sunday Morning in Old Virginia"

Homer Winslow. "Sunday morning in old Virginia." Photo courtesy of Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library.   

To learn more about education reform in the Colored Convention movement, click here


Colored scholars learning their lessons on the street ; Colored scholars on their way to school.

"Colored scholars learning their lessons on the street; Colored scholars on their way to school." 1867. Photo Courtesy of Art and Picture Collection, New York Public Library