Friday, February 3, 2017

Spotlight on Our Heritage #6: Lalia Annie Laura Halfkenny

Editors Note: The following spotlight presents a summary of Jennifer Harris’ research, which was published in Acadiensis in 2012.

Lalia Annie Laura Halfkenny

Lalia Halfkenny was born in Dorchester New Brunswick. Her household consisted of Lalia, her 18 year old mother, her widowed grandmother, and five of her mother’s siblings. In 1885, Lalia entered Acadia Ladies Seminary in Wolfville Nova Scotia, as a preparatory student.

Acadia Ladies Seminary, Wolfville, NS
(New Brunswick Museum, X15514)
By her senior year, Lalia was one of the seminary’s top students, studying literature and elocution. Lalia graduated in 1889 from the Ladies’ Seminary, becoming the first black woman to graduate from a post-secondary institution in the Maritime region.

Upon graduation, Lalia moved to Richmond, Virginia to begin her career as an english and elocution instructor at Hartshorn Memorial College. Hartshorn had one of the highest standards of education in the country and some of the highest ranking students (black or white) in the early 20th century. It was far easier for Lalia to find employment in the southern states than at home. The Maritimes were very resistant to let black residents attend secondary and post-secondary schools, let alone teach at that level. Black teachers only taught in black primary schools, and were often drastically underfunded.

With regard to the effects of black academics moving away from the Maritimes, Jennifer Harris points out at the end of her article “Ushered into the Kitchen: Lalia Halfkenny, Instructor of English and Elocution at the 19th-Century African American Women’s College” that “This removal from any Maritime community exacerbates the contemporary tendency to see these black academics in isolation. Instead, we remember these individuals today as markers of progress or distinction, rather than active agents, in the region’s history.”

Jennifer Harris also points out the contrast between Lalia Halfkenny and Mary Matilda ("Tilley") Winslow (First black Canadian female graduate from UNB). Because Lalia Halfkenny did not retain her ties to the province in the same way as Tilly Winslow did, Tilley was “remembered and celebrated” while Lalia did not gain the same level of acclaim. According to Harris, this does not downplay the achievements of either women. Instead, it shows that both were trailblazers in their own right, and their achievements should be seen within the broader scope of what such “firsts” mean.

For more information on Lalia Annie Laura Halfkenny, see "Ushered into theKitchen’: Lalia Halfkenny, Instructor of English and Elocution at a19th-Century African American Women’s College" by Jennifer Harris (Acadiensis, XLI, no. 2 (Summer/Autumn 2012): 45-65.)

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