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An Exceptional Woman from Malden – Marcia Browne

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  Who was Marcia Browne? A school dedicated to this woman has stood in Malden since 1905.

  Miss Brown was born in Springfield, Vt., in 1835, the youngest of a large, prosperous farm family. Her education was patchy. Few opportunities existed for girls like her in the early 1800s. She attended the few schools available to her, but her brilliant mind was likely not challenged anywhere. An advanced course of study at the Newbury Female Seminary near Springfield, Vt., certified her to teach.

  She began a teaching career in Springfield, but soon went to Burlington, Vt., to work at the high school level. As untrained as Marcia was academically, her education stayed current through teacher networks in Vermont. She was a disciple of Horace Mann, who revolutionized American education in the 1800s, and was likely educated under his principles. Her field of expertise was the graded school system, revolutionary at its time.

  Miss Brown was curious, self-educated…and determined. Through the 1870s, she accepted leadership positions in Vermont, New York and finally in Malden. At each secondary school she went to, she carried the philosophies of Mann with her.

  Mann proposed that students be placed in age-appropriate classes, and that only well-trained, professional teachers be hired. He also advocated for universal, nonsectarian education that promoted social efficiency, civic virtue and character, rather than mere learning or the advancement of sectarian ends.

  She met with great success everywhere she went. In 1888, while acting as principal of the Broadway School in Malden, Miss Emma Foster, of the Eastern Teacher’s Agency, sought her out. Of all the possible people she knew, Marcia Brown seemed the most likely candidate for a most serious job. Miss Foster had been contacted by the Brazilian government: Who did she know who could join a team of other Americans and Brazilians to overhaul the entire Brazilian educational system?

  The task seemed formidable. São Paolo reached out to what it considered the finest educational system at the time – specifically United States public education under the principles of Horace Mann. The mission: reform education as Brazil transitioned from a monarchy to a republic.

  Unencumbered and adventurous, she sailed off to Brazil.

  As a woman in a country steeped in patriarchy, she excelled. For nine years she toiled ceaselessly. At one point, one of her coworkers referred to her as a man-woman. She intimidated those she worked with. The only other woman on the team resigned.

  In the end, her team radicalized a new educational system for the new nation based on an American model. Brown was so integral to the success of the program that the Brazilian government paid her the equivalent of $8,000.00 a month. She returned home in 1896 a wealthy woman.

  In 1913, the Broadway School was renamed the Marcia Browne School. A decade later the Escola Miss Browneopened in São Paolo, Brazil – a school that functions to this day.

  The centennial of Marcia’s death is this month. She died on April 6, 1923, and is buried in Malden, Mass.

  To learn more about Miss Brown, and 24 other women who left a significant impact in Northern N.Y. State, please refer to “Bold and Courageous: 25 North Country Women and Their Exceptional Contributions.” The book may be purchased at https://www.bloatedtoe.com/north-country-store/product/bold-and-courageous/

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