Working for Higher Education: Advancing Black Women’s Rights in the 1850s

Milton M. Holland

Black and white photograph of Holland

Portrait of Milton M. Holland. Courtesy of Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Milton M. Holland (1844-1910) was a Civil War hero born in Texas, whose career began with his education at the Albany Manual Labor Academy. He was the son of Bird Holland and an enslaved woman owned by Bird Holland’s half brother, Spearman “Major” Holland. Bird freed Milton along with his two brothers William and Kemp. After receiving his freedom, Milton Holland enrolled in the Albany Manual Labor Academy in Athens, Ohio. He also wanted to join the Union Army, but discovered he was too young at the time he gained his freedom.[1] He instead worked for the quartermaster department of the U.S Army as a shoemaker. In 1862 he was finally able to enlist in the Army and joined the 11th Ohio Militia Infantry. Holland started as a soldier, and by 1864 he had been promoted to the position of Sergeant Major. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his admirable work during the Battle of Chaffin’s Farm. All of his white commanding officers had been killed, so Holland led his fellow soldiers to victory. In addition to receiving this award, Holland was promoted to the position of Captain, but the War Department refused him this promotion because of his race.[2] Apart from his patriotism, Milton Holland was an activist for African American rights. He was passionate about the possibility of a bright future for Blacks in the United States. In one of his war correspondences, he stated, “There is a brighter day coming for the colored man, and he must sacrifice home, comforts if necessary to speed the coming of the glorious day. I will close my letter in the language of the immortal Henry- ‘Give me liberty, or give me death!’”[3] After being discharged in 1865, Holland moved to Washington, D.C. He received a Law Degree from Howard University in 1872.[4] He founded the Alpha Insurance Company, one of the first Black-owned insurance companies in the country. He married Virginia W. Holland with whom he had an adopted daughter, May Holland Rowe. He died of a heart attack on May 15, 1910 in Silver Springs, Maryland, and was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery.[5]

Scan image of book

List of the 1872 Howard University Law Department Graduates including Milton M. Holland. Via

Scan of last will and testament

Milton M. Holland’s Last Will and Testament. Via


[1] “Milton M. Holland.” Texas State Cemetery. Accessed February 26, 2016. Link

[2] “General Charles H. Grosvenor Civil War Round Table.” General Charles H. Grosvenor Civil War Round Table. Accessed February 25, 2016. Link

[3] “Holland Letter 1,” from

[4] Howard University Law Department. 1872. Washington, D.C

[5] Paul M. Lucko, “Holland, Milton M,” Texas Historical Association, accessed February 26, 2016. Link.


Written by Sydney Hemmendinger, History 213 taught by Sharla Fett, Occidental College, Spring 2016.

Edited by Samantha de Vera, University of Delaware.