Biographical Database of Black Woman Suffragists

Biographical Sketch of Edmonia Goodelle Highgate, 1844-1870

By Roseanne Wholihan, Danielle R. Warren, Audrey R. Carey, and Chelsea Racovites
Undergraduates, University of Michigan-Dearborn

Faculty Sponsor: Georgina Hickey

Edmonia Goodelle Highgate was born June 21, 1844 in Syracuse, New York, to freed people Charles and Hannah Francis Highgate. While the family had little wealth and possessed no land, Charles's profession as a barber enabled him to support the education of his seven children, all of whom attended high school. Edmonia, the eldest, was one of the first six students to graduate from Syracuse High School, and the only African American in the class of 1861. She secured a teaching certificate from the Syracuse Board of Education in the same year, took a teaching position in Montrose, Pennsylvania, and began working with the Pennsylvania Freedmen's Relief Association. Highgate's life continued to reflect the importance she placed on education, as she fought for equal opportunities for the freed black communities that emerged during and after the Civil War.

Highgate moved to Binghamton, New York in 1861 where she became the principal of an all-black school until 1864 when the American Missionary Association, an interracial organization dedicated to working for racial equality through establishing schools in the South, approved Highgate's request to teach in Norfolk, Virginia. Highgate spent February 1864 in New York raising funds for the Freedman's Relief Association of New York before taking up her new position. In October 1864, Highgate expressed her passion for black suffrage by speaking at the National Convention of Colored Men in Syracuse, to support black veterans' voting rights. Highgate moved to Darlington, Maryland in 1865, where she established a school that her mother and youngest sister took over upon her move to New Orleans, Louisiana in 1866.

In New Orleans, Highgate and her sister Caroline taught school and helped launch the Louisiana Educational Relief Association, an organization promoting the education of indigent black children. Both Highgate sisters also worked in local hospitals visiting African American victims of white violence. In autumn of 1866, after the bloody race riot of that summer in which more than 200 African Americans were killed by ex-Confederates, Highgate fled New Orleans. She took a teaching position in Lafayette Parish, Louisiana before returning to New Orleans in March 1867 to open another school. That same summer, Highgate personally experienced the escalating racial tensions in the South she had previously moved to escape. Highgate and her students were fired upon in an attempt to scare them out of attending school, which spurred her to speak out against school segregation to the Louisiana School Board. In January 1868, Highgate moved to Enterprise, Mississippi to establish another school. While teaching, Highgate also lectured on issues facing the black community. In 1869, she traveled through the North as a paid lecturer, chronicling her time in the South in a speech entitled, "Five Years Among Southern Loyalists."

By 1870, at age 26, Highgate had fallen in love with John Henry Vosburg, an older white man. Highgate spent time in New York during this year, intending to travel back to Mississippi to continue her teaching career at Tougaloo College. Instead, Highgate was found dead in Syracuse, on October 16, 1870 due to a botched abortion, with her train tickets to Tougaloo in her trunk. Vosburg hid from the public shame of the situation, returning to his ill wife, whom he had concealed from Highgate. Though Highgate's life was cut short, her activism through education and advocacy for integration paved the way for future efforts to secure civil rights for African Americans.


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