William Howard Day Award
Four years old when his father died in 1829, William Howard Day was taken in and educated by an abolitionist family. So, it is no exaggeration to consider Day as one whose life was dedicated to the abolition of slavery and to building a new nation after the Civil War. And he managed to do this in addition to a full and eloquent career as an educator.
After earning undergraduate and postgraduate degrees from Oberlin College, Day became a professor of Latin. Eventually, in Harrisburg, he became the first person of color elected anywhere in the nation as a school director; he served six terms.
Day worked with Frederick Douglass on one of the original abolitionist committees, organizing and speaking at the first of the movement’s Marches on Washington on July 4, 1865. He traveled to London to spread the abolitionist word and helped found schools there, returning after the Civil War to continue his work, which was now beginning a new direction in earnest.
Day’s experience as an educator, antislavery champion and civil rights activist all resulted in a reputation so appreciated by his peers and contemporaries that it approached canonization after his death in 1875. Schools and streets were named for him, and even a community in Pennsylvania. The recognition has faded over time, even as his work continues to affect American life. However, his record endures.
The award, created in 2015 by the Pennsylvania Public Education Foundation, is named in honor of Day, who was also a member of the Pennsylvania State Directors’ Association, the predecessor of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association. This award seeks to recognize outstanding contributions to public education by individuals, groups or organizations across the commonwealth.