Historian and Poet Afua Cooper Shares Her Research on Mary Miles

Historian and Poet Afua Cooper Shares Her Research on Mary Miles

Jul 13, 2015

Celebrated poet and historian, Dr. Afua Cooper, shared her groundbreaking research in uncovering the hidden history of black people in Canada during a visit to Framingham State University on April 2.

Dr. Cooper’s research presentation and poetry reading were part of the University’s special 175th anniversary celebrations.

The opening of Framingham State in 1839 extended higher education to segments of the population it previously excluded, including women and minorities. Dr. Cooper shared her considerable research on Mary Miles, FSU’s first African American student, who enrolled in 1842.

The board at what was then Lexington Normal School initially did not want to accept Miles because of her race, according to Dr. Cooper. But Samuel Joseph May, the principal at the time, was a staunch opponent of slavery and believed every citizen of the country had the right to receive an education. With the support of FSU Founder and Secretary of Education Horace Mann, May was able to convince the board to accept Miles.

“She may not have known it at the time, but Mary Miles was making history by becoming the first African American woman to enter an American Normal School,” Dr. Cooper said.

Miles graduated from Lexington Normal School in 1843 and took up teaching in Boston at a school for black children. She eventually emigrated to Canada with her husband, abolitionist and author Henry Bibbs, where she became a well-known educator in the country.

“She dedicated her life to fighting slavery,” Dr. Cooper said.

This year marks the 175th Anniversary of Framingham State University, America’s oldest public college founded for the education of teachers. The University has planned a year-long program of special events and speakers to celebrate its historic milestone.

About Framingham State University

Framingham State University was founded in 1839 as the nation’s first public university for the education of teachers. Since that time, it has evolved into a vibrant, comprehensive liberal arts institution offering small, personalized classes on a beautiful New England campus. Today, the University enrolls more than 6,000 students with 58 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in the arts, humanities, sciences, social sciences and professional fields. As a State College and University (SCU), Framingham State prides itself on quality academic programs, affordability, and commitment to access for all qualified students.