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Ellen Garrison

Caesar Robbins’ granddaughter
1823 – 1892, 69 years

Ellen Garrison, the daughter and granddaughter of men who had been enslaved, spent her life educating newly freed people and fighting for their civil rights. Born and raised in this house, Ellen’s activism began in Concord. Early on, she learned about racial discrimination, and followed in her mother’s footsteps as an antislavery activist. At 12, she marched in a Concord parade hand-in-hand with her white schoolmate “beneath the gaze of curiosity, surprise, ridicule and admiration.” Ellen signed many petitions as a way to make her voice heard.

After the Civil War, Ellen taught newly freed people during Reconstruction. Her application explained, “I have a great desire to go and labor among the freedmen of the South. I think it is our duty as a people to spend our lives in trying to elevate our own race. Who can feel for us if we do not feel for ourselves?”

In 1866, Ellen tested the nation’s first Civil Rights Act in court. Almost a century before Rosa Parks took her seat on an Alabama bus, Ellen sat in a segregated waiting room in a Baltimore train station and was “forcibly ejected.” Ellen felt it was her duty to test the new law. “I feel as though I ought to strive to maintain my rights… it will be a stand for others….”

In the hostility of the post-Reconstruction South, Ellen’s teaching post was defunded. She followed Kansas Exodusters in 1879 to again teach newly freed people. After a decade in Kansas as a teacher, prairie farmer’s wife, and stepmother, Ellen moved with her family to an egalitarian, antislavery community in Pasadena, California, where she is buried with antislavery activists.

(representational image)


Ellen Garrison: An Upstander for Justice, narrated by Obi Akubude | View Transcript


The Life of Ellen Garrison, narrated by Autumn Mendonca | View Transcript

Ellen Garrison – Educator, Social Justice Advocate, Daughter of Concord

Ellen Garrison was born in the Robbins House in 1823. After her inspiring and challenging youth in Concord, Massachusetts, she moved to Boston, where she became a teacher and joined the city’s social justice community. She attended events and assisted with fundraisers for abolitionist and equal rights causes. After the Civil War she moved to Port Deposit, Maryland, to teach newly freed people. In 1866, she and another teacher challenged the nation’s first Civil Rights Act, which conferred citizenship and equal rights on African Americans

In 2016, the Robbins House opened a new exhibit: Ellen Garrison – Educator, Social Justice Advocate, Daughter of Concord

Click through the image gallery below or View PDF [14MB]

Panel 1 – Meet Ellen

Panel 2 – Home and Family

Panel 3 – Scholar and Activist

Panel 4 – Advocacy & Marriage

Panel 5 – Educator of Freedmen

Panel 6 – Target of Harrassment

Panel 7 – Testing Civil Rights Act

Panel 8 – Kansas

Caesar Robbins’ granddaughter Ellen Garrison tested the nation’s first Civil Rights Act in 1866, barely a month after it was passed.

Come learn the story of this remarkable activist and how she was shaped by her childhood in Concord, her time with the Boston Antislavery Society and Joy Street Church, her passion for teaching newly freed people in the South after the Civil War, and her final years as an “exoduster” in Kansas. Books are being written about her now – let our interpreters show and tell you her exceptional story.

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