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Black History Month

Elizabeth N. Smith trailblazed through an integrated Boston Public Schools first as a student, then as a teacher

Now a private residence, this West End building once housed The Phillips School, one of the first integrated public schools in Boston.Boston African American NHS/NPS

Elizabeth N. Smith was an exemplar student and beloved teacher within Boston Public Schools during the early phases of its racial integration.

Smith excelled in her own learning and gained admission to the Girls’ High and Normal School, graduating as one of its first Black students in 1867, according to the Bay State Banner.

In the 1870s, Smith started teaching at The Phillips School in Boston’s West End, becoming the first Black educator to teach in an integrated Boston public school.

Born in 1846 in Massachusetts, Smith had come from a family of local trailblazers; her parents, John J. Smith and Georgiana O. Smith, worked for equal education, aiding a campaign that led the Legislature to integrate the state’s schools in the 1850s.


Smith’s father was also an influential city figure as an abolitionist, state legislator, and barber. John Smith’s barbershop on Beacon Hill was a frequent meeting place for the local abolitionist movement, and Senator Charles Sumner often visited. As the first Black member of the Boston Common Council, Smith’s father also helped appoint the city’s first Black police officer, Horatio Homer.

In addition to her teaching, Smith worked for several Black charitable organizations. She served as the secretary of the Colored Women’s Refugee Aid Society, which sent clothes and other supplies to Black people fleeing the South after Reconstruction. Smith was also the treasurer of the Female Benevolent Firm’s benevolent fund, which was the second-oldest Black women-run charitable club in the country. She also was a member of the Church of Advent in Beacon Hill.

Known as a quiet and sweet person, Smith had a wide circle of friends, according to the Bay State Banner.

Smith returned to teaching at The Phillips Schools (renamed The Sharpe School by then) in 1894 after a pause, then retired in 1899 for health reasons. She died in Dorchester on Dec. 18, 1899.


Colleen Cronin can be reached at