May Hall and the Normal School

Framingham Local History Walking Tour

May Hall and the Normal School

Framingham, Massachusetts 01701, United States

Created By: University of Massachusetts Boston


You are standing in front of May Hall, which is near the site of the first building of the State Normal School at Framingham. In 1837, Horace Mann became the first secretary of the newly created Massachusetts Board of Education. During this time, he oversaw several school reforms, which included the creation of an experimental program to educate teachers. These schools for teachers were called normal schools (as they were to make their curriculum and instruction "normal" or the same across all teachers). The first of these public normal schools in the United States was created at Lexington in July 1839 and eventually moved to Bare Hill in Framingham in 1853. It was eventually renamed the State Teachers College at Framingham and now Framingham State University.

In its early years, most of the students of the State Normal School at Framingham were women. This included Olivia Davidson. She was born a free African American woman in Virginia and moved several times over her life. She would eventually graduate from the Hampton Institute (now Hampton University) and attended and graduated from the State Normal School at Framingham. She was appointed a teacher in the Worcester Public Schools, but wealthy white people protested and her appointment was rescinded by the school committee. Olivia Davidson returned to Hampton to recover from a serious illness. She then taught a group of Native men from Plains tribes who had been enrolled at the Hampton Institute after being released as prisoners of war during the so-called "Indian Wars." The civil rights leader Booker T. Washington contacted Olivia Davidson, asking her to help him develop the new Tuskegee Institute. After recovering from her illness, she joined him on August 25, 1881 as a teacher and vice principal. Olivia Davidson would later marry Booker T. Washington. She would travel the country giving speeches about Black education and raise money for the Tuskegee Institute, where she continued to teach. She would contract tuberculosis and would travel to Massachusetts General Hospital, where she died on May 9, 1889.

What is Framingham's role in the history of education in the United States? How should we remember Olivia Davidson and her contributions to "education for all"?

Read more about the history of Framingham State University:

This point of interest is part of the tour: Framingham Local History Walking Tour


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