Anne Marie Becraft


Anne Marie Becraft (1805 – December 16, 1833) was an American educator and nun.[1] One of the first African-American nuns in the Roman Catholic Church, she established a school for black girls in Washington, D.C.[2]

Biography


Early life and education

Becraft (sources also refer to her as Maria or Marie Becraft)[3] was born in 1805 to William and Sara Becraft, prominent free Black Catholics.

Anne Marie's grandmother, also a free Black, worked as a housekeeper for Charles Carroll (the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence) and was likely his concubine; Carroll presented Annie Marie's father with several of the Carroll family’s prized relics, paintings, and other keepsakes just before Carroll’s death in 1832.[4]

The oldest of seven children, Anne Marie began her formal education at the age of four at the white-operated Potter School in Washington, D.C. Race hostilities forced her to leave the school in 1812. Becraft continued her studies at another white-operated school, New Georgetown, until 1820, when it closed because white involvement in the education of black people was discouraged.[5]

At 15, Becraft became the proprietor of a day school for girls. The school operated from a house on Dunbarton Street in Georgetown. There was an average of 35 girls who "comprised girls from the best colored families of Georgetown, Washington, Alexandria, and surrounding counties."[6] The school became known as the Georgetown Seminary and operated as an academy for boarders and day students, one of the first for females in the District. Becraft operated the school for eight years,[5] at which point she resigned and moved to Baltimore in 1831 to join the Oblate Sisters of Providence in Baltimore, the first Roman Catholic religious institute for Catholic women of African descent. The school continued under the direction of Ellen Simonds.

Religious life

On September 8, 1832, Becraft received the religious name Sister Aloysius (some sources say Sister Aloyons).[3] The following year she took her vows and became the 11th sister to join the Oblates.[7] She was a teaching oblate who instructed her students in arithmetic, English and embroidery.[5]

Death

From the age of 15 Becraft had suffered from a chronic chest ailment. In 1833 her condition worsened and she was admitted to the order's infirmary. She died on December 16, 1833, aged 28.[2] Becraft was buried in Baltimore's Old Cathedral Cemetery.[5]

Legacy


Anne Marie Becraft Hall, 2010

On April 18, 2017, Georgetown University renamed Remembrance Hall (formerly McSherry Hall) after Becraft. The dedication of Anne Marie Becraft Hall was attended by Georgetown president John DeGioia, current students and administrators, and descendants of Becraft.[8] Anne Marie Becraft Hall is the first building at Georgetown University to be named after an African-American woman.[9]

McSherry Hall was originally named after former Georgetown president Fr. William McSherry, one of the two Jesuits who played a major role in the 1838 Georgetown slave sale.[10] In November 2015, Georgetown University announced that the name of McSherry Hall would be temporarily changed to Remembrance Hall, based the recommendations of the university's 16-member Working Group on Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation. Consisting of administrators, faculty and students, the group was convened by DeGioia in September to research the university's slavery-related sites. Mulledy Hall, named for the Rev. Thomas Mulledy, S.J., the president who authorized the 1838 Georgetown slave sale of 272 enslaved Africans, was also temporarily changed to Freedom Hall.[11]

Marcia Chatelain, associate professor of history and African American studies and a member of the Georgetown University Working Group on Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation, described Becraft as "a devout Catholic and deeply committed to educating young girls of color in the nation’s capital. Though she experienced both anti-Catholic and anti-black intimidation, she nevertheless responded to her calling to teach and to serve God.”[12]

The 1870 “Condition and Improvement of Public Schools in the District of Columbia" stated that Becraft "is remembered, wherever she was known, as a woman of the rarest sweetness and exaltation of Christian life, graceful and attractive in person and manners, gifted, well educated, and wholly devoted to doing good."[13]

References


  1. Murphy, Larry G.; Melton, J. Gordon; Ward, Gary L. (2013-11-20). Encyclopedia of African American Religions. Routledge. ISBN 9781135513382.
  2. Morrow, Diane Batts (2002). Persons of Color and Religious at the Same Time: The Oblate Sisters of Providence, 1828-1860. Univ of North Carolina Press. ISBN 9780807854013.
  3. Williams, George Washington (1885). History of the negro race in America from 1619 to 1880. Negroes as slaves, as soldiers, and as citizens; together with a preliminary consideration of the unity of the human family, an historical sketch of Africa, and an account of the negro governments of Sierra Leone and Liberia. University of California Libraries. New York, G. P. Putnam's sons.
  4. Williams, Shannen Dee (2016-09-18). "Congratulations Georgetown. Now It's Time to Own Up to the Racist History of the Catholic Church". History News Network. Retrieved 2020-10-14.
  5. Hine, Board of Trustees Professor of African American Studies and Professor of History Darlene Clark; Hine, Edited by Darlene Clark (1997-07-31). Black Women in America: The Early Years, 1617-1899. Facts on File. ISBN 9780816034253.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  6. Davis, Marianna W. (1982). Contributions of Black Women to America: Civil rights, politics and government, education, medicine, sciences. Kenday Press.
  7. MacGregor, Morris J. (1999). The Emergence of a Black Catholic Community: St. Augustine's in Washington. CUA Press. ISBN 9780813209432.
  8. "Georgetown apologizes, renames halls after slaves". NBC News. Retrieved 2018-02-02.
  9. "VIEWPOINT: Celebrating Anne Marie Becraft". The Hoya. 2017-04-18. Retrieved 2018-02-02.
  10. "Georgetown Apologizes for 1838 Sale of 272 Slaves, Dedicates Buildings". www.georgetown.edu. Retrieved 2018-02-02.
  11. Shaver, Katherine (2015-11-15). "Georgetown University to rename two buildings that reflect school's ties to slavery". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2018-02-04.
  12. "Building to Be Renamed for Pioneer Black Educator Anne Marie Becraft". www.georgetown.edu. Retrieved 2018-02-04.
  13. Special report of the commissioner of education on the condition and improvement of public schools in the District of Columbia :submitted to the Senate June, 1868, and to the House, with additions, June 13, 1870. Washington, D.C. 1871. hdl:2027/hvd.32044028319382.