Rachel Crane Rich Mather

Rachel Crane Rich Mather (1823–1903) was a pioneer in bringing education and opportunity to African Americans.  She was born Rachel Rich in Troy, New Hampshire, where her father, Ezekiel Rich, was a Congregational minister. She became a teacher, although it is not known where she attended school. In 1846 she married Joseph Higgins Mather, Jr., a Baptist minister, in Providence, Rhode Island. Ezekiel died of tuberculosis just five years later, and this was soon followed by the loss of their younger son, Samuel. At this point, Mather returned to teaching, at Bigelow School for Boys in Boston.

Soon after, she moved to Beaufort, South Carolina, to train teachers at a “normal school” funded by the American Missionary Association (AMA), an organization established in 1846 and dedicated to providing African Americans and Native Americans with a liberal, Christian education. The AMA also supported charitable organizations and religious denominations that established schools for ex-slaves in the North. After the Civil War ended, these efforts spread to the South.

Mather worked a year for the AMA. Then she left to establish her own boarding school, seeking to provide the food, clothes, and housing that she felt her pupils urgently needed in addition to education. And she was successful—within the year she had purchased land and buildings for the Mather School, which opened in 1868. She taught “reading, grammar, and moral development” centered around Bible study, Sunday school, and prayer services, as well as domestic training (sewing, cooking, gardening, housecleaning, etc.).

Around 1890, Mather transferred ownership of her school to the Woman’s American Baptist Home Mission Society. She continued her connection with the school and its mission until her death. The Mather School, well-known for its efforts to support the education of African Americans during an era of widespread racial segregation, operated until 1968, after which Mather Junior College merged with Benedict College of Columbia, South Carolina.

Mather is also known for assisting in relief efforts after the Great Sea Island hurricane of 1893. In addition to distributing supplies, she wrote letters and published notices in newspapers that gained awareness of the devastation the storm had caused. Her efforts raised the equivalent of about $163,000 in today’s dollars to aid those left homeless.