Roberta Sheridan (ca. 1864 - d. 1918)
MSA SC 3520-12385
African American Teacher, Baltimore County and Baltimore City
Roberta Sheridan, a lifelong
teacher, was born in
Roberta and her parents were lifelong residents of
The historical record reveals some aspects of
As an African American teacher in the age of segregation,
Roberta Sheridan faced difficulties finding employment because of racial discrimination. However, her perseverance
evident in her teaching career; there are records of her teaching from
until her death in 1918. She supported the movement to garner
support of education for black children in
teachers and leaders in
Although this was an incredible step forward for black
Roberta Sheridan was selected as one of the first African
Americans to teach
in a city public school. In the fall of 1888
Roberta Sheridan’s teaching career reveals her strong devotion to education. She was one of the first African American public school teachers in Baltimore City and she worked arduously to educate African American students during segregation. Many records emphasize Sheridan's teaching position in Baltimore City in 1889, where at first she worked with two other African American teachers, George W. Biddle and Nannie B. Grooms.20 However, Sheridan had previously taught with other African American teachers in Baltimore County, during the 1882-1883 and 1887-1888 school years.21 Some African American teachers taught in Carroll County as well.22 Clearly, the barrier of race existed for teachers seeking positions in public schools, but African American teachers had been employed elsewhere prior to Sheridan's appointment to a city school in 1889.
One other interesting facet of Sheridan’s life is revealed through the city directories. Sheridan appears in 10 different directories dated from 1890 to 1918, with 5 different addresses but always with the same profession: “teacher.”23
Roberta Sheridan was also very active in the church community. She was married at the Sharpe Street African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church by Reverend E.W.S. Peck.24 She and her parents were members of the Bethel AME Church, where Roberta taught Sunday school. Later, she also taught Sunday school at St. John’s, another AME church.25 At St. John’s, she was elected Superintendent of the Juvenile department in 1902.26
Sheridan was offered the position of assistant superintendent of Sunday School at the Bethel Church in the late 1890s. She declined because her immediate supervisor fought with a former pastor, who was a very good friend of hers. Consequently, she was not reappointed as a Sunday School teacher "on the grounds that if her affections for the former pastor were so deep...she could not serve under a brother who had fought him in one capacity, she could not consistently be expected to serve under the same brother even though in a different capacity."27 Soon thereafter, she began teaching at St. John's. The Bethel Church leaders were offended by her choice, and charged her with violating the Discipline, or the rules of the Methodist Episcopal Church. She appeared before a committee of church leaders, but "walked away without further ceremony" after a heated disagreement with the chairman of the committee.28
In 1914, Roberta, Hester, and her mother Arietta moved to 1441 North Carey Street. Roberta lived here until she died in June 1918.29 She was still teaching in the city, at School No. 108 on South Caroline Street.30 Her death certificate lists her as “Bertha E.,” presumably a nickname. It details that she died of “natural insufficiency” and “shock.”31 She is buried in Laurel Cemetery, the same place as her father. Sheridan’s mother, Arietta was still living in 1920 and is listed as an insane patient living at Bay View Hospital.32
Sheridan's appointment as the first black teacher to Waverly Colored
Public School was a huge achievement on the part of the black
teachers, leaders, and community members that had fought for equal
education for years in Baltimore. As historian Leroy Graham wrote,
"With the acceptance of black teachers and a publicly funded high
school, the blacks of Baltimore could breathe a sigh of relief after
such a long and difficult struggle."33
5. "CITY PAYS A TRIBUTE TO GEORGE BIDDLE," Baltimore Sun, 26 June 1926. The article indicates that most principals at "colored" schools were at one time members of the faculty.
9. "Prominent Teacher Dead," 1918.
10. BALTIMORE CITY HEALTH DEPARTMENT OF VITAL STATISTICS (Death Record), 1874-1972, Daniel Sheridan, 22 December, 1899, MSA CM 1132-68, no. 22666.
Bettye C. Thomas, "Public Education and Black Protest in Baltimore,"
Maryland Historical Magazine, Vol. 71, No. 3, Fall 1976,
13. Ibid., 383.
14. Ibid., 382.
15. Ibid., 385.
16. Ibid., 385.
17. "First Colored Public School Teacher," 1888.
19. "The Colored Schools," Baltimore Sun, 11 April 1889.
20. Roberta B. Sheridan is no longer listed as a colored teacher for Baltimore County in the annual report ending in September 1889. At this point she had begun teaching in Baltimore City. "The Twenty-third Annual Report of the State Board of Education showing the Condition of Public Schools of Maryland for the Year Ending September 30, 1889," (Annapolis: George T. Melvin, State Printer, 1890), 30.
21. "The Seventeenth Annual Report of the State Board of Education Showing the Condition of the Public Schools of Maryland for the Year Ending September 30, 1883," (Annapolis: James Young, State Printer, 1884), 28. Roberta Sheridan taught at School #2 in District 1. George W. Biddle taught at School #3 in District 9.
22. Other Annual Reports for Maryland public schools reveal that there were African American teachers throughout Maryland prior to 1889. For example, in Baltimore and Carroll County there were African American teachers in 1880 and 1881: "The Fifteenth Annual Report of the State Board of Education Showing the Condition of Public Schools of Maryland for the Year Ending September 20, 1881," (Annapolis: Steam Press of L.F. Colton, 1882), 106, 146, and "The Fourteenth Annual Report of the State Board of Education Showing the Condition of the Public Schools of Maryland for the Year Ending September 30, 1880," (Annapolis, Iglehart & Riley, 1881), 93-94, 127.
23. R.L. Polk & Co.’s Baltimore City Directory, 1890, p. 1105. R.L. Polk & Co.’s Baltimore City Directory, 1905, p. 1551. R.L. Polk & Co.’s Baltimore City Directory, 1906, p. 1824. R.L. Polk & Co.’s Baltimore City Directory, 1908, p. 1774. R.L. Polk & Co.’s Baltimore City Directory, 1909, p. 1789. R.L. Polk & Co.’s Baltimore City Directory, 1911, p. 1798. R.L. Polk & Co.’s Baltimore City Directory, 1913, p. 1874. R.L. Polk & Co.’s Baltimore City Directory, 1914, p. 1777. R.L. Polk & Co.’s Baltimore City Directory, 1915, p. 1839. R.L. Polk & Co.’s Baltimore City Directory, 1918, p. 1881.
26. "Officers Elected," Baltimore Afro-American, 1902.
30. "Prominent Teacher Dead," 1918.
33. Leroy Graham, Baltimore: The Nineteenth Century Black Capital (Lanham: University Press of American, 1982), 222.
Edited by Allison Seyler, December 2012.
Original research and biography completed by Claire Norcio.
Special thanks to Ms. Joan Stanne for suggestions and citations.
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