The History of Buffalo’s First African  American Teacher

by Barbara A. Seals Nevergold, PhD

Ida Dora Fairbush was born on October 15, 1869 and died on September 20, 1945.  Between those two dates she lived her life as a daughter, sister, student scholar, educator and community builder. As Buffalo’s first African American public-school teacher, Ida Fairbush was a pioneer and in every sense of the concept, she was an “Uncrowned Queen”.  In spite of significant contributions to her community, Ida’s story is largely unknown. Her history, like those of countless other Black women in this country, has not been fully documented in local history or popular literature.  However, Dr. Barbara Nevergold was determined to correct this oversight.  

Ida Dora Fairbush was the first professionally trained black teacher hired in Buffalo. She taught white children, mainly Italian immigrants, in the Annex at School 6 for 41 years.

Buffalo’s first Black teacher, Ida Dora Fairbush, was hired by the school district in 1897 and retired after 40 years of continuous service in 1937.  Through her research Dr. Nevergold has written a monograph —  “It Rests with Her to Pave the Way:  Ida Dora Fairbush – Buffalo’s first African American Teacher: a Pioneer” — that offers a portrait of Ida – her challenges and successes, the Fairbush family and Buffalo’s African American community of the post-Civil War era. This biographical sketch connects the historical backdrop and details about Ida’s family, education and community engagement gleaned from contemporary sources.  

Funded by a grant from the Buffalo Teachers Federation and inspired by a movement to place a headstone at Ida Fairbush’s unmarked grave, this publication is dedicated to the BTF, Dr. Ellen Grant, Mr. Jeffrey Reed of the Mt. Calvary Cemetery, Buffalo News journalist, Sean Kirst and Dr. William Greco.  Mr. Phil Rumore has donated copies of the publication to each of Buffalo’s Public-School libraries.  The School System will also digitize the article for student and teacher use.  

 Thanks, Mr. W. Charles Brandy, Dr. Fatima Morrell and Mrs. Ann Botticelli and, of course, Dr. Kriner Cash.  The BTF has also endowed a $1000 scholarship in memory of Miss. Fairbush.  

 The Uncrowned Queens Institute will have more information about the scholarship within the month.

In honor of Black History Month, Dr. Nevergold is donating copies of her monograph to each library in the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library system.  She spoke on Ida Dora Fairbush at the downtown library last Sunday.