Minnesota Humanities Center

Remembering the Women who Shaped my Life

Posted April 14, 2021

I grew up in the Rondo community.  It was a village of community educators.  As I reflect, I am grateful to the women of that village who helped to guide and shape my life.  I remember being told by my mother, “There is nothing that you cannot do if you only put your mind to it.” 

My mother, Lavinia Stone Murray, and my paternal grandmother Callie Sanders Murray, were my first educators.  My mother read to me whatever children’s books and nursery rhymes she could find and my grandmother read the bible to me.  Mrs. Hargrave and her staff at the Hallie Q. Brown center pre-school I attended further stimulated my curiosity through play and exploration.

At that time black people were excluded from social clubs and public meeting places outside of our community.  As children my friends and I were aware of the events, meetings and social clubs our parents attended or hosted in their homes.  When I was 10 years old two of my friends approached their mothers and told them that we would also like to have a club.  Hence, our mothers helped us to organize a club of twelve girls that we named the Three-Fours club.  Our mothers met quarterly to structure plans to guide us in our bi-monthly meetings which rotated among members’ homes.  One monthly meeting was for business, where we learned how to conduct meetings, Roberts Rules or Order, leadership skills, conflict resolution, etc.  The other meeting was focused on either domestic skills (like setting a formal dining table and proper use of eating utensils) or community service projects (like making gifts and taking them to Crispus Attucks nursing home to give to the elderly residents).  Our mothers were preparing us to take our rightful places in the world, as private and public beings.

Other Rondo community women who inspired, encouraged and guided my education were my piano teacher Mrs. Lillian Howland (who prepared me to become an accompanist for my singer father, James T. Murray, as well as turning her students over for me to teach when she moved from Minnesota); my sewing teacher Mrs. Hagen; Mrs. Wanda Owens, my fourth-grade and only black teacher in all of my K-12 public education in St. Paul; Mrs. Jean House, who entrusted me at the age of sixteen to substitute for her for two weeks one summer as the director of pre-school at Neighborhood House community center on the west side of St. Paul; Mrs. Allie Mae Hampton, who mentored me as I was moving up in leadership in the local NAACP youth division; and Mrs. Janabell Taylor, activities director at Hallie Q. Brown and community activist, who mentored and counseled me during many years of my career in Saint Paul Public Schools.

These were just a few of the many women who exemplified love of family, community service, independence, confidence, friendship, spirituality, education, and dedication to purpose.  I daresay that had it not been for such women in my life I may not have emerged from a place of hating school (due to racist treatment by several of my white teachers) to later leading education programs in the very same school district that had so often hurt and angered me. I’ve always been curious and love to learn.  These women plus others in my Rondo village taught me to listen, learn, and lift up my voice to be heard.  Unjust and unfair racist behaviors of teachers can have a lasting impact on a child.  I vowed to do whatever I could to make sure other children would not have to endure unfair treatment at the hands of a teacher.  My village prepared me not just to make but also to fulfill that vow, and I’m still keeping it.  In retirement I helped to found the EVERY BODY’S IN movement, based on research conducted by another fantastic female influence, the Kettering Foundation’s Dr. Patricia Moore Harbour.  It is, in my view, a distillation of the lessons my village taught me: everybody, whatever its shape or looks or social location, is an educator—for better or worse.  And every body can be better.

Thank you for visiting the Minnesota Humanities Center blog.

Any views or opinions represented in this blog are personal and belong solely to the blog author and do not represent those of the Humanities Center, its staff, or any partner or affiliated organization, unless explicitly stated.

All content provided on this blog is for informational purposes only. The owner of this blog makes no representations as to the accuracy or completeness of any information on this site or found by following any link on this site. Omissions, errors or mistakes are entirely unintentional.

The Humanities Center reserves the right to change, update or remove content on this blog at any time

Patrick Henry Headshot
By: Patrick Henry

Patrick Henry is retired executive director, Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research, and monthly columnist for the St. Cloud Times. He has been a member of MHC’s Board of Directors since 2013.