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Susan B. Dudley

The guide provides highlights on the life and contributions of Susan B. Dudley, community leader, educator, dramatist, and spouse of A & T second president, James B. Dudley

Early Life

Susan Wright Sampson was born ca.1852 in Wilmington, NC. Affectionately regarded as "Susie" by her family, she was fourteenth in a sibling group of fifteen brothers and sisters. Her mother, Fannie J. (Kellogg) Sampson (1811-1882), was a free woman of color. Her father, James Drawhorn Sampson (1806-1861), was born a slave and was manumitted as a young man.  The family identified ethnically as mulatto (possibly a mix of Scottish and African heritage) and were long time members of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

The Sampsons were considered a very prominent black family in the Wilmington community. Financially speaking, they were quite wealthy, James Sampson was a carpenter/contractor and he gained a reputation as a Master Builder in North Carolina. They owned several properties and even shares of stock in the Wilmington and Manchester Railroad.  According to the 1860 census, her family's real estate property was valued at $25,000. The family also owned over 60 slave apprentices. 

 

 

                                                                                                                                                                           

                                                                                                                                                                     Courtesy A & T Archives, Susan B. Dudley Collection           

Education

Like many free persons of color, Susan learned to read and write at an early age. In fact, the Sampson's placed great emphasis on educating their children. They provided them with live-in private tutors and even sent most of Susan's brothers north for schooling.  During her early years, Susan was coached in the home by her older brothers and sisters. Her formal education began at a small private school in Wilmington, NC.

After completing her primary education Susan attended Oberlin College in Cleveland, Ohio where she lived with her brother Benjamin and his wife and children. Oberlin College was the first mostly white collegiate institution to admit African American students. Unfortunately, the death of her sister-in-law disrupted her education at Oberlin after only a few years of attendance. Eventually, she made the decision to return to Wilmington and pursue training to become a licensed public school teacher, officially earning her teaching certificate July 29, 1880.

Image of Susan B. Dudley Teaching Certificate: Courtesy A & T Archives, Susan B. Dudley Collection

Career as an Educator

Susan B. Dudley was involved in the teaching field for many years.  Her first teaching position was with Peabody Freedman's School (now Douglass Academy Charter School) in Wilmington, NC.  Susan stayed quite busy during her time at Peabody School, she taught primary students during the day and adult students at night. At some point in time, she also took over as principal of the school, a post she reluctantly resigned even after her husband James Dudley, became president of A & M College. 

Susan thrived as a faculty member and instructor at A & M college. Her first assignment was to teach English literature and ancient history for the college's preparatory school. She also supervised activities such as dramatics and debate. In her role as nominal dramatics director, Susan was highly successful. She wrote, produced and directed plays which were often performed the Wednesday night of commencement week also known as "Industrial Night'.                                                                                                                       

After resigning as faculty from A & M College, Susan started a small private school for primary children in her home as well as a music club for those interested in learning the piano. She and some of her close friends also started a literary, dramatics and social club called the Chatauqua Triangle, with Susan mainly in charge of the dramatics side of the triangle. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                                                                                           

  Image of Event Program: Courtesy A & T Archives, Susan B. Dudley Collection

Family and Home Life

"Mr. & Mrs. Dudley and their surviving daughter Vivian"

Images Courtesy A & T Archives, James B. Dudley Collection

Shortly after Susan began her post as teacher at Peabody School, a new principal named James B. Dudley was appointed. Soon a courtship blossomed between principal and teacher and they were married on February 23, 1882. The pair had two children, both girls. Their elder daughter Vivian, was born in 1887 and would become the future spouse of Dr. S.B Jones, British health officer at St. Kitts in the West Indies. Their daughter Inez died young but was one of the first graduates of the A & T's preparatory college. 

James B. Dudley accepted the post of president of  A & M College May 28, 1896. When the family moved to Greensboro according to some accounts, Mr. Dudley assumed his family would purchase a modest 8 room home. Susan on the other hand,  desired to live in the type of home she remembered from her childhood in Wilmington. The family eventually built a 20 room mansion  which was completed in 1910 off Dudley and Lindsey streets. The home has been described as very grand having two parlors, a three way staircase, a piano in every room, dining furniture made from solid oak, and sometimes a $40.00 electric bill.

Social Life and Civic Activities

Susan was known as a wonderful host who welcomed students, faculty and community members into her home frequently. She held pageants on her front lawn and according to some had a special dining table for guests that stretched from the front of the parlor to the back of the house. People from all over came to social gatherings at "Magnolia Castle". Some of her more prominent guest included: Mrs. Booker T. Washington and Hallie Q. Brown, famous elecutionist of Wilberforce University. 

 Image of Dudley Family Home, Courtesy A & T Archives, Susan B. Dudley Collection

Susan was dedicated to church work in Greensboro and Wilmington. She organized the Pulpit Aid Society and became president of the Women's Home and Foreign Missionary Society of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. One of her greatest accomplishments as a member of the Missionary Society was becoming editor of its small publication, " The Missionary Gleaner". 

Later Life and Death

Upon Mr. Dudleys sudden passing in 1925, Vivian decided to invite her grieving mother on several trips to St. Kitts which was where her and her husband were living. During these visits Susan was able to see several historic places including; the birthplace of Alexander Hamilton and the church where Lord Nelson was married.

Unfortunately, Susan fell ill on the boat back to the U.S during one of her trips which effected her health for the remainder of her life. In her later days she spent much of her time tending to her gardens and was often spotted playing board games with individuals on her homes' porch.  Mrs. Susan B. Dudley passed away on April 10. 1933 from complications related to diabetes and pneumonia. She is buried in Pine Forest Cemetery in Wilmington, NC.