Mary Dora Coghill

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Mary Dora Coghill
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Bornc. 1869
Died9 April 1957 at age 88
Los Angeles, California
CitizenshipUnited States
Occupationprincipal, vice principal, teacher

Mary Dora Coghill (c. 1869 - 9 April 1957) was a Black teacher, vice principal, principal, and civic leader in early twentieth-century New Orleans. She dedicated her life to her community, not only as a teacher, vice principal and principal in public schools, but also through active participation in numerous civic and relief organizations.

Education and career

She attended Straight University[1] and became a teacher. In 1902, she was appointed vice principal of Thomy Lafon school[2], where she served in that role for five years. In 1908, the New Orleans School Board, in an effort to further segregate the educational system, replaced the all-white staff of the Bayou Road school (which taught Black children) with an all-Black staff. Coghill was appointed as the principal[3], with Fannie C. Williams and Agnes Lewis Bauduit serving as some of the school’s teachers. A very young A.P. Tureaud, future trailblazing NAACP lawyer, was a student at the Bayou Road school when the staff replacement happened. He recalls how transformative it was to have a staff of Black women as his teachers. They helped him to have pride in himself and to better understand the ingenuity of Black people and the indomitable spirit of Black women.[1]

Principal Coghill guided the Bayou Road school through many struggles. First, the building was in poor shape and suffered numerous destructive events.[4] In the early 1920s, the school board finally decided to build a brand new building a few blocks away. In 1923 the school’s name was changed to Joseph A. Craig and in 1927 the new building opened to great fanfare—at least among Black New Orleanians[5]. White people protested that a negro school was being built in a predominantly white neighborhood—and at great cost. Coghill continued to serve as principal of Craig until her retirement in 1941[6]. Over the years, she made sure her students had opportunities to demonstrate both their talents and their citizenship to the city at large[7][8].

Civic engagement

Evidence of her civic engagement spans decades of New Orleans history. In 1905, she contributed to provide food for orphans. In 1909, she was an officer of the Colored Juvenile Court Auxiliary[9]. In 1919, she was chairman of the New Orleans Colored Teachers’ Association. Later she was a leader in the Negro School Principals Association. She was active with the Hume Community Center, Colored Vocational Guidance Association, NAACP, YWCA, and Red Cross. During World War II (after her retirement from education), she served as co-chair of the Orleans Parish Negro War Savings Committee. She was also a trustee of the Central Congregational Church.

One of her most lasting civic contributions was as a founding members of the Colored Educational Alliance, which formed in 1913 to improve conditions in negro schools, expand educational offerings for Black adults, and to open a high school for Black children. The group fought tirelessly to raise awareness, raise funds, and ultimately, to convince the Orleans Parish School Board to open McDonogh No. 35 High School in 1917. She continued to work with the Colored Educational Alliance for many years after, as they moved the needle of progress for the public education of the New Orleans Black community.

Personal life

Likely born in Alabama, Mary’s family apparently moved to New Orleans when she was young. Depending on the source, she was born sometime between 1869 and 1874[10][11][12][13][14]. Her mother was most likely from Alabama, while her father was either from Kentucky or England, depending on the census record[10][11][12][13]. Little is known about her early years, but she does appear to have been a diligent student, because she won a spelling bee in 1887 at the Colored State Fair at Spanish Fort. The prize was ten dollars.[15]

She appears to have neither married nor had children, instead sharing her home with nieces and nephews later in her life. After retiring, she continued to live in New Orleans for several years before moving to California, where she lived until her death in Los Angeles in April 1957. The Times-Picayune noted in their death notice that she was 88 years old.[14]


What is known of her life now is based on mentions of her civic activity and professional work mentioned in newspapers and in a few books. In 1960, a primary school was built in the new Black suburb of Pontchartrain Park and named for her.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Emanuel, Rachel Lorraine, 1955- (2011). A more noble cause : A.P. Tureaud and the struggle for civil rights in Louisiana : a personal biography. Tureaud, Alexander P., 1936-. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press. ISBN 978-0-8071-3794-9. OCLC 714830723.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  2. "article title unknown". New Orleans Item. 28 September 1902.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  3. "School Board Talks about Finances". The Times-Picayune. 14 March 1908.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  4. Cherrie, Lolita V. (5 January 2015). "The History of Joseph A. Craig School". CreoleGen.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  5. "New Craig School Dedicated". The Louisiana Weekly. 21 May 1927.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  6. "Post Graduate Course Is Urged at Behrman High". The Times-Picayune. 14 June 1941.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  7. "Exhibit of Boats Made in Schools Wins High Praise". The Times-Picayune. 3 May 1931.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  8. "Chest Will Have Window Displays". New Orleans States. 3 November 1937.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  9. "Colored Auxiliary Formed in Connection With the Juvenile Court". The Times-Picayune. 21 May 1909.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  10. 10.0 10.1 1900 U.S. census, Orleans Parish, Louisiana, population schedule, New Orleans, p. 3 , dwelling 49, family 56, Coghill, Mary D.
  11. 11.0 11.1 1920 U.S. census, Orleans Parish, Louisiana, population schedule, New Orleans, p. 3, dwelling 46, family 51, Coghill, Mary
  12. 12.0 12.1 1930 U.S. census, Orleans Parish, Louisiana, population schedule, New Orleans, p. 20A, dwelling 333, family 367, Coghill, Mary D.
  13. 13.0 13.1 1940 U.S. census, Orleans Parish, Louisiana, population schedule, New Orleans, p. 10B, family 196, Coghill, Mary D.
  14. 14.0 14.1 "Retired Teacher Last Rites Held". The Times-Picayune. 14 April 1957.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  15. "Colored State Fair". The Weekly Pelican. 12 November 1887.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)

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