Stephen and Harriet Myers would be overjoyed to see their principals still in action today. Born into slavery on or around 1800, Stephen Myers began his life a slave in Hoosick, NY. After gaining his freedom at 18 and beginning married life with Harriet (Johnson) Myers, Stephen quickly became active in assisting freedom seeking slaves at his residence and became very active in Albany’s African American community. Along with assisting hundreds with their journey to freedom, Stephen also was an outspoken proponent and advocate for work and education within the African American community. He was the first superintendent of the school at the Methodist Episcopal Church and started the Albany Suffrage Club, also serving for a time as the President of the New York Suffrage Association. Stephen wrote in several of the days Anti-Slavery papers, and for a time was responsible for publishing and contributing to The Northern Star and Freemans Advocate. Espousing education and job skills along with access to voting rights, Mr. Myers and his wife were dedicated to assisting the people of their community achieving fundamental human rights and access to education and employment.
The Underground Railroad History Project of the Capital Region and Saint Anne Institute are partnering for a second year linking together both institutions’ long histories of being a bridge to personal freedom, education, and self-sufficiency. Using a greenhouse on Saint Anne’s property and the expertise of Master Gardeners who tend the garden on the Stephen and Harriet Myers Underground Railroad Historical Site, several young women are learning horticulture from experts. As they plant and tend the garden daily these young at-risk ladies see what hard work and determination yields and learn the invaluable skill and independence of growing their own fruits and vegetables.
Saint Anne Institute mirrors the principles of the Myers family in modern day practice. Established locally in 1887 by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, Saint Anne has acted as a haven for young women in need for over 120 years. Beginning as a “school of industry and reformatory of the Good Shepherd” the mission of the time combined work and learning. Several trades including commercial and trade sewing, fine needlework, homemaking, and commerce were taught, and in 1945 a full high school was incorporated as the roles of women in America began to change. With the evolution and changing needs of young women Saint Anne has created programs to support and educate at-risk young people. Currently operating a Regents accredited High School, Saint Anne also offers a Day Services educational program for students who require a more supported school environment, along with an accredited pre-school for children ages 3-4 displaying speech and learning delays. Group therapy, sexual abuse counseling, drug addiction counseling, and grief and loss counseling are all available to the young people who come to Saint Anne in a time of need. An on-grounds Work Experience program is also active: placing young ladies in various departments throughout the agency supporting them in the acquisition of basic job skills. Clerical work, kitchen preparation, the campus clothing shop, and assisting in the pre-school are just a few of the many locations the young women have the opportunity to work.
Both institutions have throughout their histories held one common theme: to provide temporary help in a time of need through education and the building of skills leading to self-sufficiency and personal growth. In the words of Stephen Myers, “We devote all our time to the care of the oppressed who come among us. Our pay is small, but yet we are willing to continue to do what we can for them.” To see the young ladies work with the Master Gardeners, and then plant on the site that Stephen and Harriet Myers helped so many on is a testament to the richness of Albany’s long history and both institutes’ commitment to fundamental human dignity and freedom.