Sarah E. Richmond: Principal, 1909 – 1917

To celebrate the inauguration of Kim Schatzel as Towson University’s 14th leader, we are looking back at the past leaders of the school. These essays are from a book we helped craft, Towson University: The First 150 Years.

While Newell was the founding principal who provided the vision and leadership for the first quarter of a century of the school’s development, he was ably assisted by Sarah Elizabeth Richmond, who dedicated 55 years of her life to the institution.

Born in baltimore on May 20, 1840 to Henry and Mary A. Richmond, Sarah graduated from Western High School in Baltimore City in 1855. She taught for a time at a primary school, but resigned because she would not swear an oath of allegiance to the United States during the Civil War, a requirement of all state employees at the time. Richmond, herself a relative of Southern farmers, was sympathetic to their cause. Instead, she decided to open her own private school, which she ran until June of 1865.

She was the second name listed on the enrollment lists when the MSNS opened for its first session in January of 1866. Already an experienced teacher, Richmond completed her requirements that spring, and was immediately appointed as an assistant in the school. From 1867 until 1872, she taught mathematics at MSNS, then in 1872, she was made vice-principal.

In 1909, Richmond’s achievements and high reputation were acknowledged when she became the first female president of the Maryland State Teachers’ Association and the first female principal of MSNS.

While principal, Richmond continued to teach, offering instruction on Civics and School Management. She was deeply invested in students’ work and acted as a surrogate parent, often alerting their guardians or families if there were concerns about their schoolwork or social lives. Fiercely loyal to the school and long-time member of the Alumni Association as well as the faculty, she campaigned tirelessly to see that the school’s physical needs were met. Her best known contribution to the development of the school was the work she did to move the campus to the country setting of Towson.

Housed at Carrollton and Lafayette Avenues since 1876, the MSNS building was no longer adequate for the large number of students enrolled. It didn’t offer dormitory facilities, and boarding the students was becoming increasingly difficult, as the urban environment surrounding the school changed. Richmond thought that a country setting with plenty of fresh, clean air would prove beneficial to both the physical and spiritual health of the students and allow them to focus better on their studies.

In 1910, after continued lobbying by Principal Richmond, the Maryland State Building Commission was established. Senator John Charles Linthicum led the powerful commission, which included Governor Goldsborough, Principal Richmind, and M. Bates Stephens, State Superintendent of Education, among others. Richmond’s persistence paid off when a bill to fund a new location for the MSNS was passed in the Legislature on April 7, 1912. By September 1915, the school had moved from its location at Carrollton and Lafayette Avenues in Baltimore City to a more rural setting in Towson, Maryland.

The new site posed its own difficulties – a larger staff to oversee, handling the logistics of moving students into the dormitory, the added expense of heating and maintaining the larger physical plant, and changes to educational laws made further complications. Students were now expected to have some education beyond the eighth grade before entering MSNS.

Now in her mid-70s, Richmond celebrated her fiftieth anniversary with the school in 1916. Although she was much respected in the education community and beloved by the alumni of the school, some state officials, including the governor, began to argue that the leadership of such an important institution should be in the hands of a man. Finally, in 1917, she resigned as principal but was immediately appointed as the first Dean of Students, a position where she could advise students and continue to teach School Management and Civics.

Sarah Richmond died in Baltimore on March 4, 1921. In 1923, MSNS constructed its second dormitory for women and dedicated it in her honor.


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