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The love of a teacher: Wilhelmina Crosson and Boston’s first remedial studies program


Boston has long been known for its commitments to education. Teacher Wilhelmina Crosson exemplified those commitments in her groundbreaking work advocating for under-served students. Crosson's work was key to remedial education programs being established in the greater Boston area.

Wilhelmina Crosson is known as one of Boston's early  African American educators.  Born in 1900 to working parents, Crosson knew from an early age that her education was very important. However, she noticed that there were not many opportunities for African Americans in teaching and academia.

While Roberts v. Boston outlawed segregation in Massachusetts schools in 1855, segregation and discrimination continued in housing, school districting, and socializing.

Junior Orchestra Club members at Mechanic Arts High School, 1925, Boston Technical High School photographs, Collection 0420.015

Crosson recalled not “mixing” with the white children, often being discouraged from engaging with them outside of school.

Crosson attended the Hyde School, Girl’s High School, and Salem Normal School. She traveled the sixteen miles from Boston to Salem everyday to take advantage of the elementary school education program.

Salem Normal School, circa 1865-1914, Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum

Wilhelmina later attended the Boston Teachers College and joined the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, the first sorority for African American women.

AKA in 2019

Not many of Wilhelmina's peers attended college. To change that, she founded the Aristo Club of Boston in 1925.

Members of the club wrote a curriculum for African American history, a subject that had not yet been taught in Boston Public Schools. They also raised funding for scholarships for black students. In 1926, the club successfully implemented Boston’s first “Negro History Week,” which allowed their new history curriculum to be taught in schools. Wilhelmina and other club members paved the way for Black History Month which wasn't celebrated widely until 1970.

Letter from Aristo Club to W.E.B. Du Bois, 1926, . W. E. B. Du Bois Papers (MS 312). Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries

Wilhelmina began working for Boston's Hancock School immediately after her graduation. The Hancock School educated children from many of Boston's Italian immigrant families.

Hancock School, 1909, Library of Congress

While working with Italian immigrants and students from low-income situations, she pioneered Boston’s first remedial reading program in 1935.

She showed compassion for students, and knew that basic reading skills varied no matter their grade in school. The success of her remedial programs led Crosson to get invited to speak at schools all over Boston. She went on to open the first Remedial Center in Boston at the Paul Revere School.

In 1952, Crosson moved to North Carolina when she was offered the role of president at Palmer Memorial Institute, a lifelong dream of hers. In order to be more qualified for the role, she obtained her master’s degree in educational administration at the age of 54. 

Palmer Institute Class of 1942, outside Kimball Hall in the Triangle of Achievement, Charlotte Hawkins Brown Museum

The student body of Palmer was diverse and participated in integrated recreational activities. Crosson served as president from 1952 to 1966, when she retired and moved back to Boston. Even after retirement she continued tutoring children and homeless populations. She passed away in 1991.

Crosson’s contributions to education are undeniable. Her kind heart and her unwavering dedication to teaching molded the livelihood of under-served communities for generations to come. If you want to read more about Wilhelmina Crosson in her own words, check out the transcript of her oral history!

This blog post was written by Katie Meyers, a graduate student at Simmons University. She is earning a degree in Library and Information Science, with a concentration in Archives Management.