From the plantations of the south to the public school system of the nation’s capital, Winfield Scott Montgomery’s journey represents African Americans’ fight for equality throughout the history of the United States.
Born a slave in 1853, Montgomery overcame his circumstances when he discovered a Vermont regiment of the Union Army stationed not far from his home in New Orleans. The presence of the northern soldiers gave him hope, and a ten-year-old Montgomery fled from the world of the whip to one of rifles. He traveled with the troops to Virginia, Vermont and Shenandoah. When Colonel Henry F. Dutton was wounded at the battle of Winchester and sent home to Vermont he brought Montgomery along with him and incorporated the young follower into his New England family.
After completing his elementary education, Montgomery attended the prestigious college preparatory school Leland and Gray Seminary in Townshend, Vermont. Then in 1873 he enrolled at the Big Green. Montgomery had to suspend his studies for a year due to financial difficulties, though he soon returned and graduated in 1878. While at Dartmouth he was a member of various student organizations including Phi Beta Kappa. As if his resume wasn’t impressive enough at this point, Montgomery went on to study medicine at Howard University, receiving his degree in 1890.
Despite his medical degree, Montgomery pursued a career in education. He taught in Vermont, Washington, D.C. and at Alcorn University in Mississippi. Additionally, he held numerous administrative positions within the Washington D.C. public school system. He rose from Principal to Supervising Principal and eventually became Assistant Superintendent in Charge of Colored Schools before retiring in 1924 after 42 years of service.
Montgomery fought to provide educational opportunities to black students that equaled those enjoyed by white students. The Board of Education opened Washington High School for Colored Youth, or the M Street High School, in the 1870’s. Throughout his career in D.C. Montgomery worked to ensure black students were prepared for secondary education by standardizing the instruction teachers offered students at the elementary level. He also elevated the curriculum at M Street to transform the school into an accredited institution. Not stopping there, Montgomery promoted the development of night schools, vacation schools, and fresh air schools, as well as catered classes to fit the needs of handicapped or special-needs students.
It is not surprising that Dartmouth granted Montgomery an honorary degree of Master of Arts in 1906 when his son, Wilder P. Montgomery, graduated from his alma mater. A pioneer in black education and equal rights in general, Montgomery endeavored to open opportunities for future generations through education. Winfield Scott Montgomery passed away on November 1928. He was 75. His obituary states: “did not the man span centuries of human progress!”
Ask for Montgomery’s Alumni File, class of 1878.
Posted for Haley Shaw ’15.