Catherine Ferguson, educator

Catherine Ferguson (1779 – July 11, 1854) was an African-American philanthropist and educator who founded the first Sunday school in New York City. Ferguson was born into slavery in 1779, while her mother, was being transported from Virginia to New York City. She and her mother were separated when she was 8 years old and never saw each other again. This separation caused her to devote herself to children throughout her life.

Her freedom was bought by a friend during her mid teen years and she worked to pay that off, receiving assistance from her friend, and Divie Bethune. She became a baker in NYC. She married at 18 and had 2 children, who both died during infancy.

Although illiterate, Ferguson took care of poor and neglected black and white children in her neighborhood. Every Sunday, she brought these children to her home on Warren Street, New York, in order to provide them with religious education. She was prompted by a local minister and given a large room for her “Sunday School”, the very first in the United States. Later on, her school became known as the Murray Street Sabbath School. Ferguson’s teaching instructions included the memorization of hymns and Scripture.

Ferguson gained prominence because of her charitable work and received coverage from the press when she died, including the NY Times who ran an obituary on July 13, 1854. She died of cholera at the age of 75.

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