Every day at 9am, Susie King Taylor and her brother would walk the half a mile to the small schoolhouse, their books wrapped in paper to prevent the police from seeing them. Her grandmother made sure of it – she wanted Susie to be able to read and write.
Susie was barely in her early teens when her family fled to St. Simons Island, a Union controlled area in Georgia, during the Civil War. With her inquisitive eyes and kind demeanor and her education, she impressed the army officers. They asked that she become a teacher for children and even some adults. “I would gladly do so, if I could have some books,” she replied. And so she became the first black teacher of freed black students to work in a freely operating freedmen’s school in Georgia.
Not long after, Susie married, and joined her husband and his regiment as they traveled. She became their teacher, teaching the illiterate men to read and write. It was also during this time that she became a nurse to the men, thus making her the first black army nurse in the Civil War.
All this she accomplished before the age of 18.
Looking back on her time as a nurse, she said that “I gave my service willingly for four years and three months without receiving a dollar. I was glad…to care for the sick and afflicted comrades.”
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“A snapshot biography of Susie King Taylor” sources: “Reminiscences of My Life in Camp with the 33d United States Colored Troops Late 1st S. C. Volunteers.” By Susie King Taylor. Boston Published by the Author in 1902 – Documenting the American South, University of North Carolina / Susie King Taylor, known as the first African American Army nurse. [Boston: Published by the author, from a photograph taken earlier] Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/2003653538/>.