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Robinson gravestone in Lebanon Cemetery, North York, PA (2019 Photo, S. H. Smith)

Ella Robinson trailblazer for a family of Teachers

Ella Robinson was a trailblazing black teacher in York City schools following her 1886 graduation from York High. In both respects, several of her sisters followed in her footsteps.

Ella J. Robinson [1868-1935] (Photo from Find A Grave; submitted by Gloria Ehrhart Miller)

One of my school talks includes a few comments about the early history of York High, in which I note: one of the young women, within the Class of 1886, is the first black to graduate from York High School. Ella J. Robinson immediately became a teacher after graduating from high school; her career spanning 48 years of teaching within York City schools.

The Class of 1886 included 5-male and 10-female graduates. The commencement exercises were held in the York Opera House. This was a typical graduating class in the second decade of the existence of York High; in both number of graduates and always with many more female graduates versus male graduates.

The following York Daily front page article lists the 15-graduates of York High’s Class of 1886: Ida Gable, Mervin Stacks, Annie E. Wellensick, Lizzie Metzel, Geo. R. Seiffert, Mary Herman, Ella J. Robinson, William F. Loucks, Mary G. Ryan, Annie Beck, Lulu Stallman, Frances Houck, Emma E. Allen, Benj. F. Gable, and F. Marion Dick.

York High Commencement article in The York Daily (York, PA) issue of May 27, 1886, Page 1.

Earlier this year I presented a school history talk; from which the 1886 example inspired Clara Williams to do some of her own explorations. Clara found a listing on page 34 of the 1898 York Directory intriguing and submitted four questions.

The 1898 Directory listing is for the Smallwood School; a first through eighth grade school for blacks in York City: “Smallwood School—East side S. Water St., nr College Av. Ella J. Robinson, Principal; Daisy A. Butler, Mabel F. Robinson, Teachers.”

Smallwood School listing on page 34 of 1898 R. L. Polk & Co. DIRECTORY for York, PA (York County History Center)

The questions: (1) Is Mabel Robinson a sister of Ella Robinson? (2) As a principal, did Ella still teach? (3) Were Daisy and Mabel black? (4) Were Daisy and Mabel graduates of York High?

The answer is yes to questions (3) and (4); both women are black. Daisy A. Butler [1873-1947], daughter of Henry and Marcelline Butler, is an 1891 York High graduate. Mabel F. Robinson [1871-1920], daughter of Greenberry and Lydia Robinson, is an 1889 York High graduate.

The Annual Reports for public schools of York, PA provided the answer for question (2). Ella Robinson is promoted to Principal on February 15, 1897. Besides being the administrator of Smallwood School, she taught grades 5, 6, 7 and 8. Daisy Butler taught grades 3 and 4. Mabel Robinson taught grades 1 and 2.

The answer to question (1) is no. Ella and Mabel are not sisters. However in the search for that answer, it was discovered two younger sisters of Ella are York High graduates, with both pursuing the teaching profession.

Ella J. Robinson [1868-1935] (Photo from Find A Grave; submitted by Gloria Ehrhart Miller)

Ella J. Robinson [1868-1935] is the oldest child of William and Eliza Robinson. Ella had 4-sisters and 4-brothers: Julia R. [1869-1960], Robert [1871-1873], Amelia A. [1875-1920], Mary E. [1877-1959], Herbert [1880-1919], Frank A. [1882-1932], William T. [1886-1914], and Helen [1892-1914].

Ella’s father, William T. Robinson is born in Richmond, Virginia during 1839. William’s father, John H. Robinson, is a free black, who owned a farm in Essex County, Virginia. The 1850 Census notes that William is attending school. It is not know when William T. Robinson arrived in York, PA; however in 1867, he married Eliza H. Mead, who had been born in York during 1846. At the end of his working career, per Census records, William T. Robinson is a laborer in Ice Machine Shop; likely the York Manufacturing Company.

Ella’s sister, Amelia A. Robinson, is an 1895 York High graduate. Amelia taught school for two years before becoming a visiting and private home nurse.

Ella’s sister, Helen Robinson, is a 1911 York High graduate. Helen attended Howard University in Washington, D.C., with the intent of going into the teaching profession. Unfortunately half way through her course of studies, Helen passed away following a surgical procedure.

The whole William and Eliza Robinson family are memorialized on two gravestones within Lebanon Cemetery in North York. The following gravestone, for William, Eliza and five of their children, is in the center island, between the entrance drives, just off of North George Street:

Robinson gravestone in Lebanon Cemetery, North York, PA (2019 Photo, S. H. Smith)

The four other children of William and Eliza appear on a gravestone, to the left side of the drive, a little further uphill from the first gravestone:

Robinson gravestone in Lebanon Cemetery, North York, PA (2019 Photo, S. H. Smith)

The final living members of a family sometimes do not get their years applied to such group gravestones. Mary E. Robinson [1877-1959] was buried in Lebanon Cemetery on January 21, 1959 and Julia R. (Robinson) Prince [1869-1960] was buried in Lebanon Cemetery on April 30, 1960. Julia had married Harry B. Prince in 1907, however Harry died young, in the early 1920s, and Julia never remarried.

Click on this LINK for a yorkblog.com Full View of the photos and illustrations in this post.

On a related note, the article “After Civil War, Veterans Organize in York County; Black Veterans and the David E. Small Post, No. 369, G.A.R.;” was published by the York County History Center in the 2015 Journal of York County Heritage; pages 14-33. The article contains an account of Memorial Day services held at Lebanon Cemetery; and information on many of the veterans buried there. One of the charter members of this Black Veterans organization in York is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Links to those related posts include:

African American Civil War Veterans organize in York
Battle Flag for York African American Civil War Soldiers
York Hosts son of John Brown from Harper’s Ferry fame
Civil War veteran Rev. John H. Hector
Civil War veteran J. E. Lawson buried at Arlington

Links to posts of York’s only WWI Black Veteran killed in action:

African-American George A. Wood killed in WWI
Funeral of George A. Wood of York following WWI
Grave location of WWI veteran George A. Wood

I have two upcoming talks during December:

Shank’s Mare, at Long Level, on Friday December 6, 2019, 6:00 PM, will be the site of my talk: “Never Built – The Town of Pleasant Garden & Other Curiosities.” The fee covers a delicious dinner in The Rookery, with my presentation following, over dessert and coffee. Reservations can be made at this LINK.

Appell Performing Arts Center’s Capitol Theatre, in York, on Tuesday December 10, 2019, 7:00 PM, will be the site of York Daily Record’s 5th annual history night, York History Storytellers; featuring presentations about “Pivotal Moments in York County History.” I’ll be one of the participants that evening; with my topic The York Plan. The fee goes to cost of renting the Capitol Theatre. Reservations can be made at this LINK.

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