Sidebar: Laura M. Towne
M. Towne (1825-1901), who devoted nearly forty years to educating
the freedpeople, epitomized the spirit of New England reform after
the Civil War.
Born to a prosperous Pittsburgh family, Towne grew up in Boston
and Philadelphia. As a young woman, she became an abolitionist.
April 1862, under the auspices of the Port Royal Relief Committee
of Philadelphia, Towne set out for the South Carolina Sea Islands,
where nearly 10,000 slaves were now within Union lines.
others involved in the Port Royal Experiment, she hoped to make the
islands a showcase for freedom by demonstrating blacks' capacity for
education and productive free labor.
Towne shared the paternalistic attitudes toward blacks typical of the
time, but she genuinely wanted to assist in the transition from slavery
it also trained black teachers. For several decades, it was the Sea
Islands' only secondary school for blacks.
September 1862, Towne and her friend Ellen Murray established
Penn School on St. Helena Island. The school offered a traditional
New England curriculum of arithmetic, reading and writing, geography,
and classical languages.
who never married, volunteered her services and supported the school
with contributions from Northern supporters.
Northerners returned home after the end of Reconstruction, Towne remained,
operating the Penn School until her death. It continued in operation
until the 1960s, and survives today as a community center.
information about the school, see the Penn