On Monday, November 14, 1960, a six year-old Ruby Bridges walked into William Franz Elementary School in New Orleans for her first day at her new school. Escorted by U.S. Marshalls, and amid an outraged mob of pro-segregation protesters, young Ruby became the first Black elementary school student to integrate a formerly all-white school. This powerful story tells us that not only was Ruby shunned by all other students in the school, many of whom left the school because they did not want to learn next to a Black student, but nearly every teacher in the school refused to teach her. Boston native Barbara Henry was the one and only teacher willing to teach Ruby, and so she did, in an empty classroom save for the two of them, for the rest of the academic year.
Ruby Bridges is hailed as a hero for her bravery and sheer determination to learn, as was her right, despite forceful opposition. She continues to be an inspiration for each of us, particularly children of color, as we navigate through the current racial strife in our country and continue our hope for equality and equitable practices. While we will always celebrate Ruby, we also hold a very special place in our hearts at Brimmer for her former teacher, Barbara Henry, who worked in our Lower School as an assistant in the 1980s.
Head of School Judy Guild remembers Barbara as “an inspiration to us during her time at Brimmer. She elevated the profession in so many ways, always holding herself to the highest academic and ethical standards. Not only would she help out whenever needed, she would also offer editorial advice, share important news stories, and bring attention to the contributions individuals would make throughout the day as they helped our school community be better and better.” Mathematics Department Head Nancy Bradley remembers that Barbara “was very humble and always positive” and that she was beloved by Lower School students.
We are happy to share that in the summer of 2021, the Barbara Henry Courage in Teaching Award was founded and established. The intention of the award is to recognize and honor those teachers and educators who are bold and courageous in their teaching and in their actions and who strive to make our world a better place. Anyone may nominate an educator from anywhere in the world. We hope that you will take this opportunity to consider nominating one of your child’s teachers for this wonderful award. More information can be found here.
Barbara, who has maintained a relationship with Ruby Bridges, has long since retired from her life in education, but Brimmer will forever feel a connection to this special woman.
As an inclusive private school community, Brimmer welcomes students who will increase the diversity of our school. We do not discriminate on the basis of race, religion, sex, gender, gender identity and expression, disability, sexual orientation, national origin, ancestry, or any other characteristic protected from discrimination under state or federal law, in the administration of our educational policies, admissions practices, financial aid decisions, and athletic and other school-administered programs.