Pioneers in the Early Years of WestConn: The story of Katherine Butler and Burchia Stewart – Exhibit

posterIt would not be until the late 1960s that the composition of U.S. college and university student body populations began to proportionally reflect the African-American population.  In 1895, among the small African-American community in Danbury, there were only 14 registered births of persons considered to be “black” out of a total population in the City of more than 20,000.  Very few African-Americans in Danbury at the time had the opportunity to attend high school and even fewer the option to attend college.  Yet, standing in the back row of the 1906 senior class picture for the Danbury Normal School (first graduating class of the precursor to WestConn), there is a lone young African-American woman; her name was Katherine Marie Butler.

There would not be another African-American student at the Danbury Normal School until Burchia Ellen Stewart in the class of 1917. Though Katherine Butler was the first African-American to attend the DNS, the first African-American to earn a degree was Burchia Stewart.   Stewart’s home on Golden Hill Road was close to the Butler’s farm on Clapboard Ridge and it is conceivable that she was taught by Katherine Butler who was teaching in 1907 when Stewart was 12.

Through February and March, there will be an exhibit in the Haas Library entrance hall of materials relating to these extraordinary women.