Educator. Schofield was born in Newtown, Pennsylvania, on February 1, 1839, the daughter of Oliver Schofield and Mary Jackson. Both parents came from Quaker families that had opposed slavery for two generations, and her mother served as a minister who traveled to Quaker meetings in Maryland and Virginia opposing slavery. Schofield was educated at home and by friends and relatives in the Philadelphia area.
Schofield began a teaching career in 1858 at the age of nineteen in New York and during the Civil War taught in a Quaker school for African American students in Philadelphia. In 1865 she received an appointment from the Pennsylvania Freedmen’s Relief Association to teach at Wadmalaw Island in South Carolina. The first year was difficult with almost no supplies, but conditions improved in 1866 when she moved to schools in the Charleston and Edisto areas. In 1867 she worked with Laura Towne on St. Helena Island, but illness, probably malaria, caused her to request an assignment in higher country. In 1868 she went to Aiken to a Freedmen’s Bureau School, and she remained in Aiken until her death forty-eight years later. She initially had few social contacts with the white community, which shunned her because she encouraged the former slaves to become politically active.
When the Freedmen’s Bureau School was closed in 1871, a small inheritance enabled Schofield to purchase land and construct a larger private residential school, which was later known as the Schofield Normal and Industrial School. The school had a ten-year academic program and a ten-month school year, which was longer than that for public schools for either race in South Carolina. It soon developed a good reputation for its academic standards and for its agricultural, home economics, industrial, and craft training programs. It eventually contained dormitories for boys and girls, ten classrooms, a library, a chapel, a farm, and craft areas. Many graduates went into teaching and were certified by the state as college graduates upon completion of the ten-year program. Funding came from tuition, products sold, and charitable contributions that Schofield solicited on annual trips to the North.
Schofield was also interested in women’s rights and waged a campaign in the 1890s for women to be selected as speakers at the annual National Education Association conventions. She worked for women’s suffrage and prohibition vigorously and became nationally known. Although initially resented by Aiken white families, she gained acceptance in the community when her fund-raising brought in donations from wealthy northerners, including the industrialist Andrew Carnegie. She was pleased to be appointed a director of the Aiken bank in recognition of her financial success.
Schofield died on February 1, 1916, her seventy-seventh birthday. The Aiken public high school for African American students was named for her. After school integration, it became a middle school, which continued to use her name as well as the bell that had rung on her campus since 1886.
Smedley, Katherine. Martha Schofield and the Re-education of the South, 1839–1916. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen, 1987.