Ruth’s Story

Ruth Barrow illustration


On your first day of school, you make sure your dress is spotless. You scrub behind your ears and iron your hair ribbons.

Nothing will spoil your day.

The schoolmistress looks surprised when you walk in. “Ruth Barrow,” you say, dropping a curtsey. “Good morning, ma’am.”

“Good morning … ah, Ruth. Why don’t you sit … there?”

Frowning, you slide onto a bench at the very back of the room. It’s close to the door, and a chill wind blows over your back all morning. The other children don’t look at you; they only whisper. Your smile fades.

The next day, the schoolmistress stops you before you even enter. “I’m sorry .. Ruth, was it? We can’t … ah, the parents, they don’t want their children in the same classroom as …”

“As me?” you say, bristling.

“Not just you, you see, but …”

That’s enough. As dignified as you imagine Mary Ann Shadd must be, you march away. Tears prick your eyes. You’ll fight this — it’s your right to learn, too.

But then, maybe Mrs. Grand is right. If that’s the welcome you get, maybe you should just learn at the segregated school.

Should you fight the injustice, or continue your education elsewhere?