For 56 years, the Meeting Street School (primary and grammar) provided a formal education to Black students in Providence. When it opened, it was the only free public school for students of color, and it remained one of the very few options available to Black and Indigenous families throughout the 19th Century. Under the leadership of principal Elizabeth Smith, the Meeting Street School became one of the best and most widely respected schools in Rhode Island, and the school produced some notable alumni who opened businesses, contributed to community life, and — in some cases — achieved national fame and notoriety.
We’re shining the spotlight on three notable alumni of the Meeting Street School, who all went on to full and varied lives, but whose stories begin on Meeting Street.
Eleanor M. Hazard was born into the family of James Hazard in Providence in 1838. Her father was a clothing dealer and pawnbroker who lived on North Main Street. The Hazard children attended the segregated Meeting Street School, just down the street from their home. In 1854, Eleanor married a barber named John Allen Morey and lived with him in Worcester, Massachusetts for a number of years. By 1865, Eleanor and John had moved back to Providence and established a hairdressing and wig-making business. Known best by the name “Mrs. E. M. Morey,” Eleanor maintained a hairdressing parlor for many years at 154 Westminster Street and also manufactured a hair dye called “Morey’s Hair Tint.” In 1869, she traveled to Paris, where she “perfected arrangements with leading artists in hair.” Eleanor continued to run the business even after her husband’s death and worked as a hairdresser until the late 1890s. She passed away in 1920 and was buried with her husband in the North Burial Ground.
Note of interest: Eleanor’s younger half-sister Rosa, who did not attend the Meeting Street School, was the first Black graduate of the Rhode Island Normal School and married notable Black architect and stained glass designer William Augustus Hazel.
David Eddy Howard was born in Providence in 1842, to William Henry Howard, a waiter, and Sarah Parkhurst. Their home on Power Street was a stone’s throw from the John Brown House. David and his older brothers attended the Meeting Street School during the 1840s and ’50s before Providence public schools were integrated. David enlisted in the army during the Civil War and served in the 14th Regiment Rhode Island Heavy Artillery. He was described as a “gallant soldier who served with great credit.”
During his 20s, David developed a friendship with Mayor Thomas Doyle and was appointed janitor of the old municipal offices in the Market House around 1870. When the new City Hall was completed in 1878, he assumed the job of head janitor and lived with his wife Anna in an apartment on the fourth floor of the municipal building, today the location of the Providence City Archives. David was very active in the social life of the Black community in Providence, serving as Post Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic Ives Post No. 13, as well as a Commodore of the Neptune Yacht Club, a social club for well-to-do Black citizens. Both organizations met regularly at Weybosset Hall, located near the Custom House on Weybosset Street. David died suddenly from a heart attack while on the job in 1888. Flags flew at half-mast at City Hall in his honor and many representatives of the City government attended his funeral, including the acting mayor and the chief of police. David is buried in the North Burial Ground in his wife’s family plot.
John Henry Ballou was born in Providence in 1853 to David and Anna Blue. His father was from the South and a musician with the Rhode Island Brass Band. His mother Anna was the daughter of a Black woman from South Kingstown and a Chinese sailor named “Amoy Euchee” who worked for Edward Carrington. After his father’s death in 1859, John’s mother began using the more common Rhode Island surname “Ballou.” John was raised in a home on Benevolent Street, where Brown’s Wriston Quadrangle is now located. He was educated in the public schools of Providence, which meant that before 1866 he attended the only public school open to Black children in Providence’s East Side: the Meeting Street School.
As an older teenager, he attended Scholfield’s Commercial College in Providence and then was tutored privately by C. W. Tarleton of Brown University. After studying law with Edward C. Ames for three years, John became the first Black man to pass the bar in Rhode Island in 1874. In addition to practicing law in his office at the What Cheer Building in Market Square, he also edited Rhode Island’s first Black newspaper, the Eastern Review. He worked closely with George T. Downing and other prominent Black citizens to have the Rhode Island law against interracial marriage repealed in 1881. In the 1880s, he moved to Jacksonville, Florida, where he taught physics at the Cookman Institute, and was the first Black judge elected in the state in 1888. He was a founding partner of one of the earliest Black law firms in Birmingham, Alabama. He continued to be active in civic and political affairs in his later life and was a dedicated Mason. He passed away in Jacksonville around 1925.