The Anderson Freeman Resource Center is named after two of Middlebury’s earliest alumni of color: Mary Annette Anderson and Martin Henry Freeman.
Mary Annette Anderson: First Woman of Color to Graduate from Middlebury
A native Vermonter, Mary Annette Anderson was the first woman of color to be inducted into Middlebury’s Phi Beta Kappa chapter and to graduate from the College. She also was a member of Alpha Chi sorority and valedictorian of the Class of 1899.
Anderson grew up in what then was the only black family in Shoreham, Vermont. Her father was a former slave who settled in Vermont after the Civil War, worked as a hired hand, saved money to buy a farm, and married a woman of French Canadian and Native American descent.
Anderson’s formal education began in the Shoreham School, continued in the Northfield Seminary for Young Ladies in Massachusetts, and culminated at Middlebury College. She not only wrote the Class of 1899’s ode but also delivered the valedictory address, “The Crown of Culture.” In addition, she was the first woman to address the distinguished guests—the College president, trustees, alumni, and professors—at the “Corporation dinner,” which was held after degrees were conferred on Commencement Day.
After graduation, Anderson left Vermont to teach at Straight College in New Orleans and later taught English and rhetoric at Howard University in Washington, D.C. She returned to Shoreham to marry, and she spent several months there every summer. She died in her birth home in 1922.
Martin Henry Freeman: First African-American President of a U.S. College
Born in Rutland, Vermont, Martin Henry Freeman grew up under the guidance of his grandfather, a free slave who had served in the American Revolution and operated a potash plant. A local minister, Reverend William Mitchell of Rutland Congregational Church, tutored the younger Freeman and wrote his letter of recommendation for admittance to Middlebury. Freeman graduated in 1849, delivering the salutatory address at Commencement.
After college, Freeman traveled to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to become a junior professor at the newly established Allegheny Institute and Mission Church, a coeducational school for African-American students. The founder, Charles A. Avery, was a philanthropist, Methodist lay preacher, and abolitionist, and the school proved to be a fertile training ground for activists and supporters of African-American colonization in Liberia and was believed to have been part of the Underground Railroad. Freeman advanced through the faculty, eventually becoming president of the institute, making him the first African-American to lead a U.S. college.
Like many students and faculty on campus, Freeman was a strong advocate of black Americans’ relocation to Africa, arguing that African-American children would benefit from learning in an environment free from racial hierarchy. In 1863, he resigned as president of Avery College (the Allegheny Institute had been renamed as such after Avery’s death in 1858) and accepted a position as chair of mathematics and natural philosophy at Liberia College in Monrovia.
Freeman’s trip was delayed for almost a year, and he traveled throughout New England on a lecture tour. He finally arrived in Liberia in 1864 but returned to the United States because of health reasons in 1887. He eventually returned to Liberia, and the college’s Board of Trustees elected him president in January 1889. However, his health declined, and he died two months later. He was buried in Liberia.
For more information on Freeman and his involvement in the Colonization Movement, visit “Colonization and Martin Freeman,” an online research project by students in a web museum class at Middlebury College.