Katy Ferguson: The Woman Who Loved All Children
In about 1774, Catherine Williams was born on a schooner. Her mother, a slave from Virginia, was being sent to a new owner in New York when she gave birth to the little girl who would soon be known as Katy. That child would show what a person with determination and generosity--and very little else--can accomplish.
At an early age, Katy's mother taught her what she knew about Christian scripture, and it made a deep impression on her. Even after the two were separated, when Katy was eight, the child went to church services and became a member of the Murray Street Church in New York City. She was not, however, taught to read and write.
When she was sixteen, Katy was purchased by a white abolitionist, who gave her half of her $400 purchase price as a wage for one year's work. A merchant named Divee Bethume helped her get together the other half and, by the time she was eighteen, she was free. Almost immediately, she got married and began to have children. Both of the babies she gave birth to died when they were infants. Her husband died not long after the children.
In the meantime, Katy had begun to make a living as a caterer and as a launderer of lace and other fine fabrics. But she was not satisfied with her modest financial success. Katy Ferguson had other concerns. She lived in a poor neighborhood near an almshouse. All around her were children whose lives must have wrenched her heart.
In 1793, when she was little more than a child herself, Ferguson started a Sunday school. She took forty-eight children into her home once a week to give them lessons in scripture and in the practical skills of life. She also did her best to find them homes.
Soon, the pastor of her own church, Dr. John M. Mason, heard about Ferguson's work and offered her space in his basement. He also provided assistants who could provide the basic education that she, still unable to read and write, could not. Under Ferguson's supervision, the Murray Street Sabbath School continued for forty years. It was New York's first Sunday School.
Katy Ferguson died of cholera in New York in 1854. In 1920, the city of New York opened a home for unwed mothers and named it the Katy Ferguson Home.