The Feast Day of Prudence Crandall
As I was reading about Prudence Crandall, the Holy Woman we honor today, a memory floated into my consciousness. It happened on the first day of a new year at the California School of Professional Psychology, where I was a graduate student. I was leaving my downstairs flat to drive to a class in forensic psychometrics that would be taught by one of my favorite professors. In a hurry, burdened by books, I crossed the tiny residential street to where my VW bug was parked, then noticed something was very wrong. The whole vehicle was covered with a thin layer of a sort of shiny, yellowish substance to which a bit of bright, white egg shell was attached. I did a double take on the egg shell, then it dawned on me what had happened. My car had been egged. My car had been egged, and I would need hot, soapy water and a lot of elbow grease to clean it well enough to be able to drive it. I would miss my class. After I had gone back to my home, jettisoned my books and returned to the car with my cleaning supplies, one of my neighbors was standing in her front yard. She gave me a satisfied, mean little smile before going back into her house. I was humiliated, devastated, and furious.
Prudence Crandall opened a private school for women in Connecticut in 1832 and subsequently acquiesced to the petition of a young African American woman, Sarah Harris, who wanted to enroll. Most of the parents of white children boycotted the school in protest. Undaunted, Ms. Crandall decided to educate black students exclusively. Local businessmen then refused to sell food and other essentials either to the school or the students. The State of Connecticut got into the act, passing legislation that would prohibit the school from functioning, and Ms. Crandall was embroiled in legal battles. The thing that finally closed her down, though, was her neighbors. Her neighbors protested through vandalism – smashing windows, poisoning the school’s only well, and finally burning the building down in 1834.
Prudence Crandall had purchased that school with her own and her sister’s money. I can imagine how horrible it must have been for her when it was destroyed. She didn’t stick around afterwards; she left for Massachusetts with her newly-acquired husband, a Baptist preacher.
Sarah Harris also left town shortly after the school closed, also in company with a new husband. She and her spouse moved to New Haven and from there to Kingston, Rhode Island, where she spent the rest of her life fighting to end slavery and working for the dignity of her people. Perhaps she, too, ought to be honored as a Holy Woman.
The Gospel reading for this feast day is about Jesus calling the seventy evangelists and sending them out two by two into the nooks and crannies of the world. He said, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
In 2015 racism is rampant in our country. Cowardly people still sneak around in the middle of the night, destroying their neighbors’ property and endangering their lives. They commit evil acts against defenseless individuals, believing no one is watching. As we remember Prudence Crandall and Sarah Harris, maybe we can resolve to put our hand to the plow in our own neighborhoods. Let us pledge our eyes to witness dangerous situations, our voices to rise in protest, our willing hearts to confront racism where we see it, in ourselves, our communities and among our friends and neighbors.
For the sake of the kingdom of God, hold on to that plow.
Laurie Gudim is a writer and religious iconographer who lives in Fort Collins, CO. You can view some of her work at Everyday Mysteries.
Image: Pioneer woman plowing, sculpture Lander WY