Honoring a Local Nineteenth Century African-American Philanthropist

On Sunday, Oct. 24, at 2:30 p.m., members of the Yale and New Haven communities will meet at the Grove Street Cemetery to dedicate a monument to an extraordinary New Haven philanthropist-a washerwoman by trade.

When Mary A. Goodman died in 1872, she bequeathed her entire life savings, amounting to nearly $5,000, to Yale’s Theological Department “to educate men of her own color in Yale College for the Gospel ministry.”

As the New Haven Palladium for February 2, 1872 reported, Mrs. Goodman’s motive in making this gift was as follows:

“Herself a member and regular attendant of the College Street church, and thus accustomed to intelligent preaching, she felt that the time was coming, in the rapid progress of her race and people, when they would require a more highly educated ministry, and it was after full deliberation and with real pleasure, that she consecrated to this object, nearly a year since, the entire earnings of her life.”

Speakers at the event will include Professor Howard Lamar, chair of the cemetery’s Committee of Proprietors; Bruce Alexander, vice president for New Haven and State Affairs; the Rev. Frederick J. Streets, University chaplain; the Rev. Richard J. Wood, dean of the Divinity School; and Judith A. Schiff, chief research archivist at Sterling Memorial Library.

“Too often the town/gown relationship is portrayed as one in which the university sustains the community,” says Yale Divinity School research scholar Peter Dobkin Hall. “Gifts like Mary Goodman’s call attention to the important ways in which the community has sustained Yale and, through its support, encouraged it to meet new challenges.”

In addition, notes Lisa R. Berlinger, director of the Program on Non-Profit Organizations at YDS, the Goodman Bequest reminds us of the important influence that even relatively modest philanthropy can have.

Goodman’s gift helped the Theological Department (now the Divinity School) broaden its mission to include training clergy as leaders in communities being transformed by emancipation, industry, immigration, and a widening gap between rich and poor. The bequest helped make the Divinity School a center – within an otherwise conservative institution – for scholars and citizens concerned with social justice.

Yale expressed its appreciation to Mary Goodman by giving her a grave in one of the college lots in the Grove Street Cemetery and by erecting a monument with the following inscription:

Mary A. Goodman
January 26, 1872
Aged 68

Of African descent, she gave the earnings of her life
to educate men of her own color in Yale College
for the Gospel Ministry.

Last fall, the Goodman stone, along with a number of others, was destroyed by vandals. A friend of the cemetery donated an uninscribed period marble monument (from the unsold stock of the old Thomas Phillips’ Sons Monument Company). John R. and Michael F. Nolan of Nolan’s Hamden Monuments contributed their skills to inscribing the stone. William Cameron, Grove Street’s superintendent, oversaw the process of design, carving and installation.

An endowed lectureship being established in Goodman’s memory: the Mary A. Goodman Lectureship in Community Ministry. This position will enable the Divinity School to broaden its offerings in the leadership and management of religious and civic communities and in social ministry.

For further information about the Goodman Lectureship, contact Peter Sipple, Director of Development, Yale Divinity School, 409 Prospect Street, New Haven, CT 06511.

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Media Contact

Dorie Baker: dorie.baker@yale.edu, 203-432-1345