FRANCES JOSEPH-GAUDET, 1861 - 1934
PRISON REFORM WORKER and EDUCATOR
Mrs. Frances Joseph-Gaudet was born in a log cabin in Holmesville, MS, of African American and Native American heritage. She was raised by her grand parents and lived with her brother in New Orleans where she went to public and private schools and attended Straight College. Widowed early, she dedicated her life to social work and worked with the Prison Reform Association assisting prisoners unjustly accused. Starting in 1894 she held prayer meetings, wrote letters, carried messages, and secured clothing for black prisoners and later for white inmates as well. Her never ending encouragement and support of prisoners won the support of prison officials and city authorities, the governor, and the Prison Reform Association.
Upon her return from serving as a delegate to the Women's Christian Temperance Union international convention in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1900, she attended hearings of the juvenile court where she assumed responsibility for young blacks arrested for misdemeanor or vagrancy and worked toward their reform. She was the first woman, black or white, to support juvenile prisoners in Louisiana and her efforts helped found Juvenile Court. When her home grew too small for this endeavor, she purchased a farm on Gentilly Road and founded the Colored Industrial Home and School which later became the Gaudet Normal and Industrial School. The school was also a boarding school where working mothers could leave their children. Through various fundraising activities the school expanded to 105 acres with dormitories and many buildings.
Mrs. Gaudet was the principal of the school until 1921 when she gave the school to the diocese of the Protestant Episcopal church of Louisiana with the understanding that they would continue the school, or if sold, donate the proceeds to a similar school. In the 1950s the school closed, but in 1954 the Gaudet Episocopal Home opened in the same facility serving African American children ages four to sixteen. Although this home is now closed, the endowment continues to fund Scholarships and other ministries in the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana. St. Luke's Community Center on N. Dorgenois Street honors Mrs. Gaudet with a hall in her honor. Mrs. Frances Gaudet spent the last years of her life in Chicago, Illinois, where she died in December 1934.