When Maria Louise Baldwin graduated from the Cambridge Teachers’ College in 1875, a member of the Cambridge School Board told her she was best suited “to go south and work for those with more limited educational opportunities.” While she taught in Maryland for seven years, Baldwin wanted to return to the school district in which she had been raised. Described as “one of the best” by a member of the Cambridge School Board, in 1882, Baldwin became the first black public school teacher in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She taught at the Agassiz School first in the primary levels before first becoming the principal, and later the master of the school. Baldwin made several important changes to the Agassiz School as master, including redesigning the building itself with open-air classrooms and an auditorium, a parent-teacher group, and expanding nurse services provided on the school’s campus.
Baldwin gained national renown as master of the majorly white Agassiz School. However, her work in Cambridge stretched far beyond the Agassiz school. She regularly held reading groups in her home, often hosting Black Harvard students like W.E.B. Du Bois. Du Bois described Baldwin’s:
“courage-her splendid, quiet courage astonished us, and so she came to larger life and accomplishment. She fought domestic troubles and the bitter never-ending insults of race difference. But she emerged always the quiet, well-bred lady, the fine and lovely Woman.”
Baldwin’s community involvement went beyond holding salons in her home. She worked closely with Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin to establish the Woman’s Era Club and worked with both white and black women in the quest for suffrage. Baldwin was later was on the founding board of the NAACP with Ruffin. As an educator and a club woman, Baldwin created spaces for herself in a time and place where black women were not given much space at all. She used her skills as an educator to improve the lives of black Northerners and both white and black school children. Her legacy in both the black and education communities in Cambridge is long-lasting; in 2004 the Agassiz School in Cambridge, Massachusetts was renamed the Maria L. Baldwin School in her honor.
- Anthony W. Neal, “Maria Louise Baldwin: An eminent educator, civic leader, speaker,” The Bay State Banner, May 2, 2013, http://baystatebanner.com/news/
- Dorothy B. Porter, “Maria Louise Baldwin, 1856-1922,” The Journal of Negro Education 21, no. 2 (Winter 1952): 94.
- Brenda Bernadine Bell-Brown, “Baldwin, Maria Louise,” in The Encyclopedia of African American Education, ed. Faustine Childress Jones-Wilson, Charles A. Asbury, D. Kamili Anderson, Sylvia M. Jacobs, Margo Okazawa-Rey (Westport: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1996), 41-42.
- “Maria L. Baldwin, graceful educator,” African American Registry, last modified 2018, https://aaregistry.org/story/maria-l-baldwin-graceful-educator/.
- W.E.B. Du Bois, “Maria Baldwin,” The Crisis, April 1922, 248.
- Mark Schneider, “The Legacy of Lucy Stone,” in Boston Confronts Jim Crow 1890-1920 (Lebanon: UPNE, 1997), 104-106.
- James W. Ivy, “How the NAACP Began,” The Crisis, February 1959, 77.
- Nathaniel Vogel, “The Mismeasure of Miss Baldwin,” Peacework, April 2002, https://aaregistry.org/story/maria-l-baldwin-graceful-educator/.
- “Maria L. Baldwin School,” HMFH Architects, last modified 2018, http://www.hmfh.com/projects/baldwin-school/.