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  • Writer's pictureF. Haywood Glenn

Notable African American Woman You May Not Know

Updated: Dec 8, 2023

Susie King Taylor

Educator, Nurse, and Author

The Early Years

Susie, born Susie Baker, was destined for greatness from her birth in 1848 on a Georgia plantation. She was the youngest of nine children. At seven years old and for reasons I could not find, Susie was allowed to move to Savannah and live with her grandmother, Dolly. At that time in Georgia, it was illegal to educate African Americans, free or slave. However, Miss Dolly was friends with Mrs. Woodhouse, a widow who ran a secret school in the community.

With their books properly concealed, Susie and her brother were sent to Mrs. Woodhouse’s school. When Mrs. Woodhouse’s school closed, two of Susie’s white playmates offered to teach Susie, as long as their mother did not learn of the secret classes. Anyone caught teaching blacks could be fined, flogged, or jailed.

Susie was a quick learner and she mastered everything she was taught. That secret education would serve Susie well. Being able to read and write allowed her to write passes for her family and friends, allowing them to travel at night without fear of being stopped or arrested. Susie loved learning and teaching and developed a passion for education.

The Escape

In 1862, the Civil War was well underway and Susie’s world would change yet again. Her grandmother Dolly was arrested on suspicion of abolitionist activities. At that time, Union troops were camped near Savannah. Susie and her Uncle moved back to the plantation. Soon, the slaves, including Susie and her family, escaped to the Union Camp. The camp soon became overcrowded and Union Officers ordered them to be transported to St. Simon’s Island. As soon as the Union Officers realized that this young woman of fourteen was educated, they immediately implored her to begin teaching the young children of the camp. This was an offer that Susie could not refuse. She was given books and other learning materials. Susie Davis became the first African-American woman to found a school for free black children. Soon, she began teaching the children during the day and their parents in the evenings.

The 33rd Black Regiment of the United States was formed from the militia that fought against Confederate raids on St. Simons Island. Susie met and fell in love with a black Infantry Officer. They were married and Susie began to travel with the regiment as a nurse and laundry worker.

After the War

Susie and Edward left the regiment and moved to Savannah in 1866, where she opened another school for African-American Children. She charged a small tuition to cover the cost of books and other supplies. However, when free public schools became open to African Americans, Susie was forced to close her school.

The same year that Susie conceived her first child, her husband Edward was killed in a work accident. Eventually, she would move back to Boston in 1874. In 1874, Susie married Russell L. Taylor. She was now Susie Baker King Taylor. She became one of the founding members of the Corps 67 of the Women’s Relief Corps, dedicated to supporting black veterans of the Civil War.

She briefly moved to Louisiana to care for her ailing son. He eventually died and Susie moved back to Boston again.

In 1902 Susie Baker Taylor published a Memoir entitled, Reminiscences of My Life in Camp: With the 33rd United States Colored Troops Late 1st South Carolina Volunteers.

Resources for Additional Reading:

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