Editor’s note: This is the 3rd article written by Urbana Junior High students who have studied local educator Dr. E.W.B. Curry with the assistance of the Champaign and Delaware county historical societies and the Champaign County Recorder’s Office.
Students at Urbana Junior High School have decided Dr. E.W.B. Curry was a very successful and important part of the history of the education system in the post Civil War era who deserves recognition for his part in our community. The often under-recognized Dr. Curry founded a successful and influential school to teach African Americans important life skills that would help them gain jobs right here in Urbana, OH.
E.W.B. Curry found success from setting up the Curry Institute in Urbana, Ohio. Curry had a dream of helping African Americans get better and higher-paying jobs. He followed through with that dream in 1889, when, while still going to school at the young age of 17, he began to teach African-Americans of all ages in a small shed kitchen in Delaware, Ohio. He taught anyone who could pay the tuition of 25 cents per week, old or young.
As enrollment in the school increased, he moved the school to Mechanicsburg for two years. When he began to get more interest in the school, in 1897, he moved it to a building at 325 East Water Street in Urbana, Ohio, and founded the Curry Institute.
At the Curry Institute, course work was offered in elementary, industrial, normal, and religious training. Since course work was offered in industrial training, this helped many African Americans gain the skills needed to work in a specific job of their choosing. The goal of the school was to focus on offering job specific training for African Americans so they could gain employment, but people of all races and genders were allowed to go. Curry opened up his school for all ages because many African Americans had missed out on an education in their youth, especially in the South.
At the Curry Institute, men were taught in industrial classes, leather working, printing, cement and paving, domestic arts, paper hanging, decorating, house painting, and gardening. Women were taught nursing, domestic science, sewing, hair dressing, and millinery. Curry also owned farm land for the purpose of teaching African Americans farming techniques.
E.W.B. Curry said, “Nothing is taught that does not have a bearing upon actual everyday life” (Wilson 1993). Curry only taught his students what he thought they would need to thrive in everyday life. Curry helped many people get employed through his training and worked to foster an appreciation in Urbana’s African American community for striving to increase their position in life through education.
Making a difference
He was clearly a great citizen who wanted to make a difference, evidenced from a quote out of his own book detailing the purpose of the Curry Institute as helping, “…form a place of knowledge for old and young to uplift humanity, a school where students could better themselves industrially, spiritually, and culturally.”
Curry started this school because he wanted to help African Americans live better lives by teaching them better job skills which allowed them to gain more money. One of Curry’s successes is recorded in an exhibit panel about Curry from the Delaware County Historical Society stating, “The skills described would enable African-American men and women to be employed in a good-paying job, perhaps even leading to owning their own business.”
Dr. Curry opened a school for African Americans when he himself was an African American, which would’ve been no easy task for Curry because he set it up shortly after the Civil War and racism certainly could come into play. Some people would’ve been against the school because it was made by an African American and it was for the education of African Americans, though there is evidence Curry found plenty of positive support in Urbana. Even when there was a lot of adversity coming his way when it came to civil rights and segregation, he made it possible for anyone to attend his school of any race, gender, or age.
Dr. Curry was a very productive man and wanted to help his students by giving them the best resources and materials for them to get the education he thought they deserved. He found multiple teachers who could teach different types of job skills such as religious, industrial, or mechanical training as well as jobs like carpentry, dealing with livestock, and gardening. Since he was making this school for primarily African Americans he brought on several African American teachers including Miss Emma Davis, Mrs. Julia Porter, and Mrs. Mary McWilliam (Curry’s book “The Curry Institute” written in 1889).
One teacher, Dr. T.W. Burton, was actually the first African American doctor in Springfield, OH. Curry recruited this doctor to teach the skill of nursing to his students (Clark County Historical Society).
“Curry strongly advocated the employment of African-American teachers for African-Americans, citing the importance of self-help, meeting the students emotional and educational needs, and an environment free of racism,” according to an article written about Curry as one of the first African American teachers in the state of Ohio. The passage also states, “…Curry was hailed as one of the most influential spokesmen for African-American education.” (Wilson 1993)
Curry wanted to show African American students that they could grow up and do something outside of regular expectations. Curry also wanted to give African Americans confidence and redemption from their past. So, Curry taught what students would need in everyday life to thrive, showing that Curry wanted his students to have equal opportunities.
Wilberforce University connection
Dr. Curry and the Curry Institute owned three properties around Urbana, which, as an African American, was impressive for the time period. The Curry Institute was located at 325 E. Water Street, which has now become a private residence.
Curry also purchased two additional properties along US-68. The first was 75 acres south of town on Dallas Road that he hoped to use for agricultural education through real farming. The second property was located on US-68, and through our research with the Champaign County Recorder’s Office we have found evidence that it may have bordered property that is now our school (the new Urbana Elementary and Junior High Schools on US-68).
This second property was where Curry had plans to build a newer and larger school for his Institute. Curry had started building on this property before he died, but only the outer shell of the building was completed. Curry died in 1930, and the remainder of the bricks and supplies for the new school were gifted to Wilberforce University, the first college for African Americans in Ohio.
Through our research with the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center as well as Wilberforce University we have found out that the bricks were used in the construction of an addition to the Wilberforce Carnegie Library, which is now where the offices for the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center are located. We believe the original foundation of Curry’s unfinished school could still exist on property in Urbana, and we are hoping to work with current landowners to identify their location and existence.
Dr. Curry was a noteworthy part of our African American history in Urbana, Ohio as a man of imagination, hope, citizenship, and honor. These are the traits that made Curry successful, helped him influence our local history, and allowed him to better people’s futures. Curry worked long hours and juggled many things at a time, but he never gave up.
Curry had to overcome many obstacles, but, in the end, he proved many people wrong and stood proud for the people that were cheering him on. This is why Curry needs to be recognized in a huge manner.
This article was written by Urbana 8th graders Preston Wisma, Lauren Shelpman, Colton Lafferty and Kenadi McKee. Some of the research was provided by Bryce Stambaugh.