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Holley Graded School was established during Reconstruction and continued to serve the African American population through the 20th century. The school was established by Caroline Putnam and Sallie Holley, two white women who had opposed slavery and worked to help formerly enslaved women, men, and children after the Civil War. The school was established in 1868 and was replaced by a new building that was built in phases from 1914 to the 1930s and this building still stands thanks to the efforts of preservationists.


  • This was the largest black elementary school in Northumberland County during the era of segregation.
  • Holley Graded School continues to serve the purpose of literacy
  • Caroline Putnam and Sallie Holley. Photo from the Massachusetts Historical Society.

After the Civil War, many African Americans organized hundreds of informal schools and pooled their resources to support efforts to spread literacy and provide opportunities for formal education. Holley Graded School in northern Virginia began in Lottsburg, Virginia with the support of Glasgow Blackwell and other leaders of the local Zion Baptist. The school's first teacher and founder was Caroline Putnam, a white female abolitionist who traveled to the area with Sallie Holley, a leading abolitionist orator. Holley had been in the area during her time on the lecture circuit and asked Putnam for her help create a school in Lottsburg. Holley purchased the land in 1869, and Putnam named the school in her honor. 

Putnam ran the school in its early years. After her death in 1917, she willed the school to the local black community so that the school could continue. Early educational establishments such as the Holley Graded school were crucial to the successful advancement of African Americans after emancipation.

Holley Graded School. Holley School Histories website. Accessed January 19, 2017. http://holleyschool.weebly.com/about-holley-school.html.