October 7, 2019

Goucher College launches the Hallowed Ground Project

Goucher College launches the Hallowed Ground Project to recognize the history of slavery on campus land.

The Hallowed Ground Project Goucher College has launched the Hallowed Ground Project to further the college’s commitment to study and to recognize the role of slavery and racism in the history of the land the college currently occupies. Earlier this year, the Goucher College Board of Trustees unanimously approved the first initiative of this multi-year project by voting to amend the college’s original 1921 land deed to strike the racist language and refile it with the State of Maryland. The college is also embarking on several historical research projects to understand better the history and legacy of slavery on the land formerly known as Epsom.

“Social justice is a pillar of the Goucher community,” said Kent Devereaux, Goucher College president. “The symbolic, public step of amending our original land deed will live in the historical record and reflect our community’s values. However, we didn’t want our commitment to stop there. We see it as an institutional priority to better understand and recognize the history of slavery on the 287 acres the college now resides upon.”  

Goucher College, which was founded in 1885 after slavery was abolished in the United States, purchased the land in Towson in 1921. Prior to Goucher’s existence, the Hampton estate belonged to former Maryland Governor Charles Carnan Ridgely, who bequeathed part of it to his daughter, Harriet Ridgely Chew, and his new son-in-law, Henry B. Chew, when he died in 1829. Ridgely also bequeathed some twenty enslaved men, women, and children to the Chews. In 1921, descendants in the Chew family sold 421 acres of their land to Goucher College. Before the sale, the Chew family inserted a clause in the deed of sale that stipulated “no part of said land or premises shall ever be leased, sold, transferred to or occupied by any person of the African Race.”

In addition to amending the 1921 deed to remove the racist language, the Hallowed Ground Project will also expand historical and archaeological research opportunities and hands-on, collaborative learning on campus for students and faculty to understand better what happened on the property. The Goucher College History Program is planning to acquire a large volume of digitized copies of Chew family letters from the Historical Society of Pennsylvania to help illuminate the history of slavery on the land. As research projects expand, options to educate the community and memorialize the history of slavery on the land will be explored, including public lectures and permanent exhibitions. The project team will also explore the viability of erecting a permanent memorial to the enslaved men, women, and children who once labored on the land.

James Dator, assistant professor of history at Goucher College and chair of the Hallowed Ground Project, recognized the importance of this work and the need for the college to acknowledge publicly and understand better the history of slavery on the land and the origins of the deed. For the past year, he has been leading a group of students, alumnae/i, faculty, and staff to develop these initiatives.

“The project’s purpose is to integrate this history into the college’s collective memory so new generations of students can learn from our shared past and remember the lives of the enslaved who, until now, have largely been forgotten,” said Dator. 

Goucher College has also joined the Universities Studying Slavery (USS) consortium. The USS’s mission is to support institutions as they address both historical and contemporary issues dealing with race and inequality in higher education communities, as well as the complicated legacies of slavery in modern American society.