The Story of Charlotte Hawkins Brown

By Samuel Phineas Upham

Charlotte Hawkins Brown isn’t someone you readily think about when you consider education, but she got the opportunity to do something few of us can accomplish in our lifetimes. She was raised in North Carolina and Massachussetts. She attended public school in Cambridge, where she met Alice Freeman Palmer. Palmer, the former president of Wellesley College, was encouraged when she saw Charlotte pushing a baby stroller and reading the Roman poet, Virgil.

Palmer funded Brown’s college education at the State Normal School in Massachussetts. She returned to North Carolina, on Brown’s encouragement, and took on a job at the Bethany Institute. The small school was run by the American Missionary Association at the time, but they were facing budget problems and weren’t able to keep the school running.

It was slated to close a year after her hiring, so she rallied donors from the community to keep it alive. She combined industrial training with the standard curriculum, and she pitched her ideas to intellectuals she’d met through Palmer.

The new school was small in its early years, occupying little more than a single cabin and with a staff of just two teachers, but Brown’s efforts steadily grew the campus. She’d eventually built a stone building, which was completed in 1905, and she named it after Alice Palmer.

By the 1920s, the Palmer Memorial Institute had become a successful boarding school with national accreditation. It attracted would-be educators and gave honorary degrees. Brown also committed her educational philosophies to print when she wrote The Correct Thing To Do -To Say -To Wear. She ran the school until she retired in 1952, and she passed in 1977 at the age of 77.

About the Author: Samuel Phineas Upham is an investor at a family office/ hedgefund, where he focuses on special situation illiquid investing. Before this position, Phin Upham was working at Morgan Stanley in the Media and Telecom group. You may contact Phin on his Samuel Phineas Upham website or Twitter.