Brown, Hallie Q.
|CATHERINE FERGUSON -- 1749 (?)--1854 -- Founder of the First Sunday School Movement in -- New York City|
In the 1922 edition of Cubberley's History of Education we find this: "In 1793 Katy Ferguson's School for the Poor was opened in New York, and this was followed by an organization of New York women for the extension of secular instruction among the poor."
So meagre were opportunities for education of any sort for the poor that this effort is given significant place in the early beginnings of American education. The Sunday School movement, originated by John Wesley and worked out in England by Raikes in 1780, had two years previous made a start in Philadelphia. Katy Ferguson, with no knowledge of the Raikes' movement, with scant material, and with no preparation save her piety and her warm mother's heart, gave to New York City its first Sunday School; and because Sunday Schools at first gave secular as well as religious instruction, her name is recorded with other early American educators.
For the fact that Catherine Ferguson was an ex-slave, we are indebted to Lossing's Eminent Americans, published in 1883. She was well known and highly respected in New York City. The accompanying cut is from a daguerrotype "taken in 1850 at the instance of Lewis Tappan, Esq., and later owned by the Rev. Henry Ward Beecher."
From the historian Lossing we gain the facts given here. She was born a slave while her mother was on her
In her life of toil and sacrifice, there was not time for learning to read. She, however, attended Divine service regularly under the excellent Dr. Mason and, not content to enjoy this religious instruction for herself alone, she gathered into her humble dwelling in Warren Street the neglected children of the neighborhood, black and white. "Sometimes the sainted Isabella Graham would invite Katy and her scholars to her house, and there hear them recite the catechism, and give them instruction. Finally, Dr. Mason heard of her school, and visited it one Sunday morning. 'What are you about here, Katy?' he asked. 'Keeping school on the Sabbath?' Katy was troubled, for she thought his question a rebuke. 'This must not be, Katy; you must not be allowed to do all this work alone,' he continued; and then he invited her to transfer her school to the basement of his new church in Murray Street, where he procured assistants for her." Some of New York's most eminent divines were in later years proud to trace their experience to helping in Katy Ferguson's Sunday School. Among these may be cited the Rev. Dr. Ferris, sometime Chancellor of New York University.
And so it is that this humble handmaiden of the Lord has come into her own in the annals of educational achievement and is reckoned worthy to be named with Plato, Rousseau, Herbart, Pestalozzi, and Horace Mann.