Historic, but not famous

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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Historic, but not famous

Molly Williams, first female firefighter

Molly Williams  was the first known female firefighter in the United States. An African American, she was held as a slave belonging to a  Benjamin Aymar, a merchant in NYC,  who was affiliated with the Oceanus Engine Company #11 in 1818. During her time in the company she was called Volunteer No. 11.

Williams fought fires in a  calico dress and apron and was said to be “as good a fire laddie as many of the boys.” Her service was noted particularly during the blizzard of 1818. Male firefighters were scarce due to an influenza outbreak, but Williams worked with the men on the ropes and pulled the pumper to the fire through the deep snow.

Again, thanks to Dave Gardiner for introducing me to this trailblazing woman. 

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