A tribute to the Lydia Judah, teacher, Freedmen’s Bureau

The greatest success of the Freedmen’s Bureau lay in the planting of the free school among Negroes, and the idea of free elementary education among all classes in the South. 

W.E.B. DuBois, The Freedmen’s Bureau

While delving into the Freedmen’s Bureau records for a client, I came across the “Teacher’s Monthly School Report” for June of 1867 in Richmond, Virginia. The locations of the schools caught my eye: “16th st. near to creek,” “cor 3rd And Leigh,” and “All[e]y bet Clay & Marshall.” The roster named each teacher, the date the school opened, the ethnicity of the teacher (most in Richmond were “colored”), the number of students, and other data reporting the students’ progress. Two hundred and seventy-seven students were tallied on the page.

Teacher’s Monthly School Report, Freedmen’s Bureau, Richmond, Virginia, June 1867

Third and Leigh street, Google informed me, now hosted a bus stop. Google street view came through, including the bus. Passers-by walk the street where the teacher of the Third and Leigh Street school supported the dreams of students. Her name was Lydia Judah.

Third and Leigh Streets, Richmond, Virginia

Who was Lydia?

Lydia Judah’s school opened at Third and Leigh street in October of 1866.[1] In June of 1867 she taught ten male students and twenty-one female. Lydia reported that twelve students were early readers and twelve were advanced.

Lydia Judah, the daughter of Benjamin W. Judah, and was born free in Virginia in about 1838.[2] A court record from 1841 attested to the free status of the Judah children.

Richmond City Court Minutes

Benjamin was a shoemaker. Lydia grew up in a large and family.[3] The household in 1850 may represent Lydia’s parents, Benjamin and Judith, an older sister, Pocahontas, married to Patrick Cross, another older sister, Augustine, and younger sisters Frances and Sarah. [Note the surname Cross was erroneously provided as the surname of the Judah children.]

Benjamin Judah household, 1850 US Census, Richmond, Virginia

By 1860, Lydia was the eldest child in the family, and three young children with the Cross surname complete the household. The family fortune had declined between 1850 and 1860.

Benjamin Judah household, 1860 Census, Richmond, Virginia

The Confederate government oppressed free blacks during the Civil War and more hardship likely confronted the Judah family. At the war’s end, Lydia stepped up to provide an education to those who had previously been deprived of an education.

Lydia Judah died of consumption in Philadelphia in August of 1868.[4]

Lydia B. Judah death, 10 August 1868

Lydia and the other schoolteachers of the Freedmen’s Bureau contributed to the cause of freedom.

For more about the Freedmen’s Bureau schools, see Scott Britton Hansen, “Education for All: The Freedmen’s Bureau Schools in Richmond and Petersburg, 1865-1870,” Virginia Commonwealth University, Thesis, 2008.


[1] “Virginia, Freedmen’s Bureau Field Office Records, 1865-1872,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HY-D1L7-94X : accessed 25 June 2022); “Teacher’s Monthly School Report,” June 1867, Richmond,  Virginia; citing NARA microfilm publication M1913, roll 168.

“United States, Freedmen’s Bureau, Records of the Superintendent of Education and of the Division of Education, 1865-1872,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-C9TH-KS4T-1 : accessed 27 June 2022); “Monthly Education Report, Virginia,” 20 February 1868, page 5; citing NARA microfilm publication M803, roll 32.

[2] “Richmond City, Virginia, Hustings Court Minutes, No. 14, 1840-1842,” 14 June 1841, page 354, regarding children of Benjamin W. Judah; digital image, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-C374-V9R5-X: accessed 27 June 2022), Film #008574656; citing County Clerk

[3] 1850 U.S. Census, Henrico County, Virginia, population schedule, Richmond, page 383 (stamped facing page), dwelling 671, family 778, Ben. W. Judah household; digital image, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:53HT-DC33-832 : accessed 27 June 2011); citing NARA microfilm publication M432, roll 951.

1860 U.S. Census, Henrico County, Virginia, population schedule, Richmond Second Ward, page 195 (penned), dwelling 1047, family 1187, Benj. W. Judah household; digital image, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.ora/ark:/61903/3:1:3357-8BF2.9L1 : accessed 27 June 2022); citing NARA microfilm publication M653,roll 1352

[4] Pennsylvania Department of Health, death certificate, Lydia B. Judah, Philadelphia, 10 August 1868; database with images, “Pennsylvania, Philadelphia City Death Certificates, 1803-1903,” FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HY-6SZ7-HZW : accessed 27 June 2022); citing Philadelphia City Archives and Historical Society.

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