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  --  1849--1918   Table of Contents    Illustration

Brown, Hallie Q.
Homespun heroines



Josephine Silone Yates came of a family with rare and remarkable race pride in their pure African descent, coupled with a strong intellectuality. To this was added the New England environment with the ethical and religious elements which have made this section the Corner-stone of the American Republic. Blessed is he who was reared in New England.

An old legend of the family tells of a slave-ship with its cargo of African slaves that was driven ashore on the rocky coast of New England and its human freight scattered to various parts of the country where freedom came to them nearly a century earlier than to the slaves of the South.

Among these thus fortunately placed were the ancestors of Josephine Silone. For several generations they lived on Long Island, esteemed as men and women of sterling worth. To Alexander and Parthenia Reeve Silone were born two daughters, Harriet and Josephine; the older showing a taste for manual industry developed into a superior dress-maker; the younger, showing a taste for books and study was given every opportunity to secure a good education. Their training started at the feet of an intelligent, christian mother--so that when Josephine was old enough to enter the district school--she was admitted to advanced standing.

At the age of eleven, she was invited by her maternal uncle, Rev. J. B. Reeve of Philadelphia to his home, that better opportunity for education than that afforded by the

district school might be hers. Here she came in contact with a large number of cultured people and especially with Mrs. Fannie Jackson Coppin, a woman of rare qualities, and in attending her Institute for Colored Youth, Josephine made rapid progress. When her uncle was appointed to a charge in Washington, D. C., she accepted the invitation of a maternal aunt, Mrs. Girard, who lived in Newport R. I., that beautiful "City by the Sea," to live with her and attend the high school there. Her brilliant qualities as a student soon attracted the attention of such men as Colonel Wentworth Higginson, a member of the school board. She was not only valedictorian of a large class, but was the only colored member of her class, and the first colored graduate of the school.

To fit herself for the work of a teacher, she entered the Rhode Island State Normal School at Providence and graduated in 1879, again the only colored graduate.

In 1880 she came West and began teaching in Lincoln Institute, Jefferson City, Missouri, as head of the department of science and held this position with marked success until 1889 when she resigned to marry Professor W. W. Yates, principal of the Wendell Phillips School of Kansas City, Missouri.

A warm welcome was extended by Kansas City to a woman already known in educational circles as one of the best teachers in the state, and she was soon called for as a private teacher by a host of young and old aspirants for more learning. In later years she was called to teach again in Lincoln Institute and in the High School of Kansas City.

For the greater part of her life she had been writing for the press and now enlarged her work in that line, often writing under the nom de plume of R. K. Potter. As a writer she had a clear, incisive style and a wide range of thought. She wrote often in verse, as "The Zephyr," "Royal To-day," "The Isles of Peace" and others.

With the beginning of the club work among our women, she became a zealous club worker, and was one of the organizers

and the first president of the Kansas City Woman's League in 1893, one of the oldest clubs among the colored women. Later she became one of the State Presidents of the federated clubs.

When the National Association of Colored Women was organized in 1896 she became one of its earnest supporters and later served four years as its treasurer and four as president--at the fourth Convention in St. Louis in 1904, and in Detroit, Michigan, at the fifth Convention in 1906 she presided with a quiet dignity, grace and tact. At the close of the Convention in Detroit the members of the Convention expressed their appreciation of her faithful service and impartial ruling by presenting her with a large silver loving cup.

Mrs. Yates was a woman of rare intellectual power--she delighted in study and passed with distinguished success every examination she entered. She had a wonderful capacity for work, and it was no unusual thing for her to write or study all night and teach the next day.

She never allowed the duties of the home to encroach upon the time set apart for study or literary work, and in many lines of work, husband and wife continued side by side, for Mr. Yates also was ever a student.

Hers was a nature to make and hold friends, of strong moral fibre, of keen insight into human nature, of broad, deep sympathies, that knew friends in every rank of society and every race. To the many hundred students with whom she came in contact, she was an inspiration--showing them the heights that could be reached without wealth, beauty or favor, by steady concentrated work.

Two children were born to Mr. and Mrs. Yates, whose education she carefully superintended, never feeling that her responsibility ended by "sending them to school." The daughter, Josephine Silone Yates graduated from Kansas University and is a successful teacher in the schools of Kansas, City, Missouri; the son William Blyden Yates also graduated from the University of Kansas, and then took a

medical course at Northwestern, in Chicago and is now practicing medicine in that city.

In November, 1910, Mrs. Yates was left a widow by the death of Mr. Yates whom the Board of Education esteemed so highly that they renamed the school of which he had been principal, the W. W. Yates School.

Mrs. Yates was later appointed a teacher in the high school where she taught with all her former success, until Sept. 3, 1912, when she suddenly departed after an illness of two days.

To her children and her friends she left a priceless heritage, the memory of a woman who stood on a height in usefulness, character and culture.

  --  1849--1918   Table of Contents    Illustration