Friday, June 11, 2021

Celebrating Ellen Garrison Clark

Ellen Garrison Jackson Clark 

Something good is happening in Altadena, California on June 19th. I'm really pleased to have contributed to it (in a small way.) The story began with my quilt B.O.M. this year Hands All Around: Alcotts at War. I was looking into the lives of contemporaries of Louisa May Alcott and her family in Concord, Massachusetts and came across Ellen Garrison Clark, who was one of many women from the area who taught freed slaves during and after the Civil War. Both Louisa's and Ellen's mothers were members of  the Concord Ladies' Antislavery Society.

Nicodemus, Kansas

Ellen spent some time teaching and homesteading in Kansas, where many African-Americans settled in the 1870s. She then moved on to the Pasadena/Altadena area in California.

I live in Kansas and my sister Jane lives in Altadena. She enjoys volunteering at the Altadena Historical Society so I asked if she would poke around and see what she could find about Ellen Clark. She found records of her at Mountain View Cemetery as Ellen Garrison and Ellen Clark but no gravestone.

Ellen lived in this Concord house (now moved and reconstructed as the
 Robbins House Museum) when she was a child.

We spent a few weeks on Ellen and found out quite a bit, particularly at Concord's Robbins House Museum. Ellen taught at Freedmen's Schools in Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina, spending summers with family in Concord. After the war Ellen and a fellow teacher sued a railroad that denied them the right to sit in the ladies' waiting room although the Civil Rights Act of 1866 declared African-Americans had the same rights as white. The suit came to naught but one gets a good glimpse of who Ellen was by finding her name in that case.

In her 50s she joined the Exodusters, moving to Kansas to teach. She, second husband Harvey Clark and sister Susan Garrison Johnson moved west to Altadena in the 1890s, where Ellen continued to teach, but she soon died of tuberculosis on December 21, 1892 in her late 60s. 

My sister guesses the family came to Pasadena to take advantage of both the mountain air (hoping the wind off the San Gabriels would benefit their lungs) and the sanitoriums that developed there to treat victims of consumption.

Ellen is buried with her husband and sister in the African-American area of Mountain View Cemetery but no tombstone marks the grave. We decided that omission needed fixing and before long the Historical Society and Town Council, particularly Dr. Sandra Thomas and Veronica L. Jones, raised more than enough money from the community for a stone, which will be dedicated on Juneteenth, the 19th at 1:00 pm in the cemetery. See a link to the event here:

The Juneteenth event, Mountain View Cemetery:

My sister's talking there.

Concord's Robbin House has an exhibit on Ellen Garrison Clark.

See the Garrison Clark graves pages at Find-a-Grave, which has quite a bit of information about them, I'd guess provided by people back home in Concord at the Robbins House.

Here's Christina Lenore Davis's relevant thesis about Ellen's legal battle with the railroad:
The Collective Identities of Women Teachers in Black Schools in the Post-Bellum South
See Chapter 3, page 53 for Ellen Jackson.


  1. What a wonderful story! I love knowing there are still people in this world who care about others (it's hard to tell sometimes). You, your sister, and everyone involved should be very proud of yourselves; what you've done for Ms. Garrison-Clark is a noble thing! And, I'm thrilled she will have a gravestone...we all deserve that.

  2. An amazing woman and thank you for bringing her story to us! Wow! Thank you!

  3. That is a wonderful thing to have helped bring about. Her story represents so many, and having the tombstone will be meaningful to a lot of people. Thank you for all the historical work you do, quilting and people.

  4. I watched the commemoration on YouTube today. It was nice, so many people in the Altadena community were involved. The gravestone is lovely.