Who was Elizabeth Jennings?

This Jennings wasn’t a Soviet spy or an English poet. She was a New York City schoolteacher, an early feminist, civil rights advocate, and a Bad Ass Rebel Woman. She was born when Andrew Jackson was President and died weeks before Teddy Roosevelt took office.

On Sunday, July 16, 1854, Elizabeth and a friend took a horsecar bound for church. When she refused to leave because she was black, the conductor assaulted and threw her off the high-step platform bus. Undeterred, Jennings reentered the car and the conductor tossed her out again aided by a city policeman. She sued and won a landmark lawsuit that opened transit services to all New Yorkers.

Elizabeth’s father was an abolitionist and the first African American to receive a US patent. Young Chester Arthur was her trial attorney. Her mother and sisters were members of a Literary Society that raised money to free slaves. Her abolitionist brothers were friends of Fredrick Douglass and William Nell. Elizabeth started the first kindergarten for black children. She was likely the first woman in NYC allowed to remain a teacher while married.

What drove a battered Elizabeth Jennings to get off the ground and charge back onto that horsecar? That took 12 years and 256 pages to figure out.

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