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[Above: Gaudet, from Frances Joseph Gaudet, He Leadeth Me, Louisiana Printing Co., Ltd, 1913, public domain.]

ON THIS DAY, 23 DECEMBER 1900, Frances Joseph arrived home in Louisiana after several months’ absence. As a delegate to the international convention of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, held in Edinburgh, Scotland, she had mortgaged her home to pay trip expenses, and left New Orleans and her children on 4 June. 

Her hatred of alcohol sprang from the family-destroying addiction of her first husband whom she divorced after ten years of marriage. Her efforts at prison reform in New Orleans had magnified her understanding of the problem. An African-American Christian with Native-American blood, she responded with determination in 1894 when the Lord prompted her through her conscience to visit prisoners, start prison prayer groups, and work for the release and reform of juveniles. She saw that many prisoners had committed crimes to obtain drink or while under the influence of alcohol.  

Despite Jim Crow laws, she succeeded in winning the respect of many white authorities and leading women and subsequently influencing local policies. Her faith, revealed in letters and reports, gained her an international reputation. Hence her invitation to the WCTU convention. In Scotland she received numerous invitations to speak in churches and her talks often resulted in spiritual conversions among her listeners.

Opportunities to visit England, Ireland, and France brought her more invitations to speak. She told audiences of her experiences and of her dream to open a juvenile home. Back in the United States, she attended the WCTU’s national convention in New York, where she also spoke, before finally heading home to New Orleans and her waiting children.

Her faith was rewarded with funding that allowed her to begin attending court and taking in juvenile boys. When her own home became too crowded, she bought a 105-acre farm on which she would build several dormitories. The Colored Normal and Industrial School she founded was renamed the Gaudet Normal and Industrial School of Black Youth in 1902. More than an orphanage and boarding school, it trained young people to succeed. Eventually she developed a competitive system in which the boys bid for garden plots on which to raise vegetables. When they sold the produce, they paid their lot rent and kept all remaining profits. Some even hired girls from the female dorm to clean and iron their clothes.

In 1905, she married A. P. Gaudet, who had assisted her as secretary from the start of the boarding school venture. Thus when she published her autobiography in 1913, it was under the name by which she is now known, Frances Joseph-Gaudet.

Beginning in 1919, she began relinquishing the work to the Protestant Episcopal Church. She continued as principal until 1921 when she resigned. She spent the final years of her life in Chicago, where she died 30 December 1934. In 2006 the Episcopal church added her name to its calendar of feasts.

Dan Graves


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