Elizabeth Thorn Scott Flood was the capable, determined 19th century woman who paved the way for desegregated education for children of color in California.
Born in New York in 1828 as a free black person, Elizabeth Thorn was educated in New Bedford, Massachusetts, where she met and married Joseph Scott, a mariner. A continent away the California Gold Rush was attracting thousands, and in 1852 the couple and their young son Oliver traveled west by ship so Joseph could become a gold miner. The family settled in Placerville but Joseph died suddenly, leaving Elizabeth alone in a rowdy mining camp with a small child. She moved to Sacramento, into a small house on Second Street between M and N Streets, but Oliver was refused entry to the local public school. Elizabeth saw a need and filled it, opening her home as the first private school in the city for African American children, on May 29, 1854.
Fourteen black children enrolled; she received $50 per month as the teacher, collected from the one dollar per week tuition fees paid by the students’ parents. Soon Mrs. Scott’s classrooms were open to Native American and Asian children as well, and as the number of pupils outgrew the confines of her small house, the class location was changed to the basement of St. Andrews African Methodist Episcopal Church, where she was an active member. The church sponsored conferences and other events in the black community; Elizabeth attended when it hosted the First State Convention of Colored Citizens in California in November 1855.
Sometime during that same year she met and married her second husband Isaac Flood, a freed slave who had been born in South Carolina; a man involved in many civic and social causes. He was twelve years older than Elizabeth, and also a single parent with a young son. The couple and their two children moved to Brooklyn, a small community near Oakland, in 1856. There, in 1857, she pioneered another school for black children from their home on East 15th Street.
In 1858, the Floods helped start the Shiloh African Methodist Episcopal church, the first African Methodist Episcopal church in the area. Five years later, the church purchased an old 20- by 30-foot, abandoned school building and moved it to Second and Market Streets in Brooklyn (later annexed to Oakland), using the building for church services as well as a school. Elizabeth continued to teach at the school until her death in 1867.
Elizabeth Thorn Scott Flood died unexpectedly in 1867, at age 39, leaving behind her husband Isaac and five children. In 1872 her youngest daughter, Lydia Flood, was one of the first African American students to attend desegregated Oakland schools. March is National Women’s History Month.