On the morning of Saturday, November 10, 2018 at 11:00 am, a small group of people dedicated a headstone memorial at the previously unmarked grave of Susan Elizabeth Frazier.
Some of Her Actions
1888: Graduates from Hunter College (then Normal School) and approved for teaching in the New York City School system. Becomes a successful substitute teacher among children of color.
1892: Gives a lecture entitled, “Some Afro-American Women of Mark” at the Brooklyn Literary Union, February 16, 1892, which is published in the national journal of the African Methodist Episcopal Church April, 1892.
1894 to 1896: Applies for and is denied teaching position that would involve teaching white students, takes legal action and loses, but ultimately becomes the first woman of color, or person of color, allowed to teach white students in New York City.
June 1919: Hosting 1,200 people at the Lenox Casino in Harlem, in her role as organizer and President of the Women’s Auxiliary to the “Harlem Hellfighters, a letter addressed to her personally from former President Theodore Roosevelt is read aloud, after which she accepts Roosevelt’s gift of large silk, American flag sent by him in abstentia.
November 1919: Winner of city newspaper “Evening Telegram” contest to send the most popular teachers in New York City to see the battlefields of France, Frazier pushes aside efforts to stop her from going and pushes asides efforts to have her sit at segregated dining in Paris.
February 1924: At the 369th Regimental Armory, Frazier is given full military honors, her coffin is draped with the American Flag, taps are played, and commanding officers deliver powerful eulogies.
Some of Her Words
February 16, 1892: Speech at the Brooklyn Literary Union “Notwithstanding the obstacles that presented themselves to Afro-American women, some of them, self-prompted and in some cases self-taught, have removed obstacles, lived down oppression and fought their way nobly on to achieve the accomplishment of their aim.”
“We young women of the race have a great work to do. We have noble and brilliant examples of women who under all trying circumstances have labored earnestly for the elevation of their race, there sex. Let us drive, with the advantages of a higher education, to carry out the aim of our noble predecessors the success of the futurity of the race.”
October 30, 1895: Interview with the New York “Sun” “There are colored teachers in the schools of Brooklyn, Jersey City, Boston and other cities and I think it time that the color line be obliterated in appointing teachers in New York.”
July 19, 1917: Open letter to former Pres. Theodore Roosevelt “We are a race always prayerful, long-suffering, truly American, ever patriotic and loyal to the interests of our country. We know this nation can never become a power until every citizen, regardless of race, color, or creed enjoys the life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness that is his god-given right. Colonel Roosevelt again and again we thank you.”
Susan Elizabeth Frazier is the great-granddaughter of Milan farmer, landowner and Revolutionary War Veteran, Andrew Frazier. He is the senior family member in the family plot in Rhinebeck, relocated from original burial on his farm in Milan, as was the tradition.
Her father, Lewis, was born in Milan but relocated to New York City to work as a coachman to a wealthy 5th Avenue family, living in adjacent apartments on West 23rd Street, where Miss Frazier grew up.
Graduated from Normal College, later known as Hunter College in 1888
“Normal College” was part of the “normal schooling” concept which trained teachers in methods of creating a consistent, “normalized” curriculum. Normal College in New York was a women’s college, but unusual in its commitment to accept Created by the New York State Legislature, Hunter was deemed the only approved institution for those seeking to teach in New York Cityknown for its impartiality regarding race, religion, ethnicity, financial or political favoritism; its pursuit of higher education for women; its high entry requirements; and its rigorous academics.
Thought leader, writer, speaker on the “capacity” of African Americans and Women
On February 16, 1892 she delivered an address to an audience of the Brooklyn Literary Union, called “Some Afro American Women of Mark” which has been referenced from its time of first presentation, through to contemporary books and dissertations today. She argued that through education, culture, and social organizations, there could be an erasing of “color line.” She argued actively against the creation of a YMCA or YWCA for persons of color, for example, always looking to erase separation.
Founder, President, the Woman’s Loyal Union
Financial Secretary, the Empire State Federation of Afro American Women’s Clubs
Frazier led the initiative to create the Women’s Auxiliary of the Old Fifteenth New York National Guard, she had put foundational plans in place well before the April 1917 declaration of war, at which point she became its president.
She acted as Sunday School Teacher and Church Missionary Society President at her church, St. Phillip’s Protestant Episcopal Church.
Challenges of Racial Prejudice
Teaching: Miss Frazier made national headlines over several years in her insistence of obtaining a teaching position in New York City. As a successful graduate of Normal College, a college dedicated to training the best public-school teachers, she was well prepared and entitled to teach in New York City. She testified that her application was advancing until it was discovered she was a person of color. She retained an attorney, filed a “writ of Mandamus”to force school authorities to execute their duties, but failed, with courts saying there could not be prejudice in the school authorities’ decision. She took it no further.
But no doubt due to her high profile, her extreme competence, and public arguments, she received an appointment a few months later, and held that position until her death.
Trip to Europe
Miss Frazier was honored on Lincoln’s birthday by Company A of the Women’s Police Reserve, 38th precinct.
From newspaper at the time: In her remarks she referred to the outcropping of the race prejudice which sought to prevent her from making the trip. It was alleged that an effort was made to buy her off when it was discovered that she was one of the successful contestants. But she could not be bought. To all of the propositions, arguments and offers to prevent her sailing, Miss Fraser returned the one answer, that she was standing on her rights as an American woman and would make the trip. On board the boat, an effort to seat her at a separate table, and a similar effort at the hotel in Paris were frustrated by Miss Frazier’s ignoring the plan. The officer in charge of the party, in fact, was put to the necessity of apologizing to Miss Frazier for the seeming attempts at segregation. After overcoming these attempts of race prejudice, Miss Frazier declared that her trip through France and England was very pleasant.”
Miss Frazier was the purchaser of the cemetery plots we believe in 1921
The Rhinebeck Cemetery map indicates that the purchaser of the three large lots for the family were Susan Elizabeth Frazier alone in one instance, and with her brother, Frederick G. Frazier, in two instances. We do not know exactly when the Frazier family remains were removed from their family farm on Willow Glen Road in Milan. It could be the early 1920’s based on newspaper accounts of Miss Frazier coming to Rhinebeck at that time.