Educator. Summers was born on January 17, 1844, at Spruce Bank Farm near Woodbury, Connecticut. She was the youngest daughter of David Summers and Sarah Maria Upson. Throughout her youth Summers remained in Woodbury, where she was educated in the public school system. In 1863 she began teaching in various grammar schools in the vicinity of her hometown, where she gained a reputation for being a competent instructor. In December 1866 she submitted her resignation and volunteered her services to the American Missionary Association to teach emancipated slaves in South Carolina.
Although a member of the First Congregational Church in Woodbury, Summers was neither notably devout nor prone to religious fervor. However, her maternal uncle, Alvin Upson, had performed extensive fieldwork for the American Missionary Association a decade earlier. Summers was joined by her childhood friend Julia Benedict, and together they departed New York City on January 12, 1867, and arrived at Hilton Head Island six days later.
Following an orientation, Summers and Benedict were conducted to quarters in Mitchellville, a hamlet comprised of numerous small wooden houses built for the former slaves. Most of these freedmen once had been slaves at Drayton Plantation, a landholding abandoned by its owners since 1861. Five hundred families occupied Mitchellville. Three churches were utilized as freedmen schools. The majority of the teachers were affiliated with the American Missionary Association. Throughout her service on the island, Summers recorded her daily experiences in a diary. She also wrote many detailed letters to her older sister, Sarah. Her various writings provide detailed descriptions of life among the Hilton Head freedmen in 1867. Summers’s correspondence was published many years after her death.
Eventually, Summers and Benedict were transferred to Lawton Plantation, another abandoned estate comprising eighteen hundred acres. Throughout the next six months they conducted both day and evening schools for approximately seventy-six pupils of all ages. The two teachers maintained a Sunday school program as well. Most of their classes were held within the “Praise House,” the plantation building where the freedmen held religious services.
On June 20, 1867, Summers and Benedict resigned their positions and returned to Connecticut. Neither ever returned to South Carolina. On June 10, 1869, Summers married Floyd Frost Hitchcock in Woodbury. Upon her marriage she retired from teaching, except for educating her three children (a fourth child died in infancy). Summers died in Woodbury on July 30, 1900.
Summers, Eliza Ann. “Dear Sister”: Letters Written on Hilton Head Island, 1867. Edited by Josephine W. Martin. Beaufort, S.C.: Beaufort Book Company, 1977.