Maritcha Lyons

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NYPL: psnypl_scg_219
Harry A. Williamson Photograph Collection


circa 1900s


Photographs and Prints Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations
This is a photograph of Maritcha as an adult.

In adulthood, Maritcha was able to fulfill her lifelong ambition of becoming a school teacher. In her memoir, she credited the many people who helped her at every step of the way. In childhood, there were her parents, who “made over a sickly, peevish, unproposing [sic] girl into a woman with a new lease on life” and sacrificed so that she could “attain what was regarded in my youth as a liberal education for a woman.” Later came her teachers, most esepcially Charles Reason.

Maritcha devoted herself to elementary education. She began at Colored School no. 1, later P.S. 67, where Charles Dorsey, another member of Brooklyn’s black elite, was principal and the much admired Georgiana Putnam assistant principal. There, Maritcha progressed from teaching the lowest primary grade to instructing the graduating class. Ten years later, she was hired as the assistant principal of P.S. 83 under the directorship of Frank Harding whose further mentoring helped her become, in her own words, “useful and efficient.”

Thanks to her long career Maritcha developed a well-defined set of teaching principles. Recognizing that elementary education was the full extent of what the majority of children—black or white, native born or immigrant—would receive, Maritcha saw herself as providing “the education of the masses rather than of the classes.” She believed that there were three essential components to their education: information, which included not only book knowledge but also critical thinking; elevation, or moral development and the formation of personality; and the cultivation of the mind-body connection since she was convinced that control over muscles led to greater mental readiness and concentration.

In 1892, Maritcha moved beyond the female sphere of elementary school teaching into political activism. That year she debated Ida B. Wells at the Brooklyn Literary Union and, in the eyes of many, won the debate. The two women became close friends. Maritcha mentored Wells “extempore speaking"; in turn, it was Wells who convinced Maritcha and her friends to start a black women's club in Brooklyn, the Woman's Loyal Union.


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“Maritcha Lyons,” Black Gotham Archive, accessed July 10, 2018,