Emily Howland was born in 1827 in Sherwood, NY to Slocum and Hanna Howland. Sherwood had a large Quaker population and Emily’s family was prominent in the Society of Friends. A core belief of the Quakers is that all humans are equal, driving many to become involved in both abolition and the women’s suffrage movement. Quakers began pushing for the end of slavery in the late 1600s and formally petitioned Congress for abolition in 1790.
Emily grew up with the conviction that slavery was wrong and developed a strong desire to help African Americans through education. From 1857 to 1859 she taught at the Normal School for Colored Girls, also known as the Miner School for Girls, in Washington D.C. The Miner School was founded by Myrtilla Miner in 1851 after her Mississippi school refused to allow her to teach classes for African Americans. Classes at the Miner School focused on training future teachers. Enrollment in the school grew quickly and Miner received regular donations from Quakers who supported her mission. Harriet Beecher Stowe also admired the school and donated part of the royalties she earned from Uncle Tom’s Cabin (read more about enslaved narratives in the online exhibit ‘Twisted Threads of Gold and Steel’).