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Maria Louise Baldwin: An eminent educator, civic leader, speaker

Black History

Anthony W. Neal | 5/2/2013, noon

Another reporter similarly noted, “Personally, Miss Baldwin is charming, and upon almost any topic converses most interestingly, in the rich, low voice, carefully enunciated and well-chosen words of a New England woman of the best type.”

She won praises all over the country for her lecture on the life of Harriet Beecher Stowe and presented lectures on presidents Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln as well. Baldwin often gave readings from the works of African American poet, novelist and playwright Paul Lawrence Dunbar. Her home at 196 Prospect St. became the center for various literary activities. There she held weekly readings for African American students attending Harvard.

Baldwin was one of the speakers at the 35th annual banquet of the New England and Massachusetts Women’s Suffrage Association, held at Faneuil Hall on the night of May 22, 1901. Nearly 400 members and guests attended the event, including representatives of the Massachusetts legislature.

According to the Globe, she made “one of the best speeches of the evening on ‘The Teacher in Social Reform.’” Baldwin told the audience that a “teacher’s work was more sacred than that of a minister,” and that “children should always be given the closest attention by teachers because of the latent possibilities in their young lives.”

On Oct. 26, 1901, Baldwin offered the Massachusetts Federation of Women’s Clubs, at its meeting in Springfield, Mass., a “teacher’s point of view.” “Anyone who spends a long time in the work of teaching realizes that, noble as the task is, it holds peculiar temptations, subtle influences that make for narrowness of view, for a kind of mental fixedness and for a loss of enthusiasm,” the educator said. “We teachers see our work and ourselves . . . very large” and “are apt to consider that work . . . quite detached from the greater social ends it is designed to serve,” Baldwin added.

She was pleased that efforts were being made to bring the public schools and the community into cooperation and thought that the “pleasant overtures that club women” had made to teachers had “certainly been for the teacher’s good.”

Concerned about the welfare of black Southerners, Baldwin spoke at a mass meeting at Chickering Hall on May 20, 1899, organized by leading women of Boston to protest “the barbarism of lynching.” Other speakers at the event included: Julia Ward Howe, Edna Dow Cheney, Florida Ruffin Ridley, Mary A. Livermore, Alice Freeman Palmer, Mary Clement Leavitt and Mrs. Edwin D. Mead. About 300 people, mostly women, attended the gathering.

Baldwin volunteered her time raising money for the education of African American children and young adults. On March 27, 1900, at the Madison Square Garden Concert Hall, she and black intellectual W. E. B. Du Bois addressed a meeting to raise funds for a free kindergarten for African American children in New York City.

She served on a planning committee that held an “April Festival” in Boston on April 19, 1901, the proceeds of which provided aid to a kindergarten for black children in Atlanta, Ga., Journalist Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin, her daughter Florida R. Ridley and teacher Harriet L. Smith served on the committee as well. More than 100 black children participated in the festival, which took place in the parlors of the Young Men’s Educational Aid Association.