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Throwback Thursday: Uncommon Presences, Uncommon Achievers

Seneca Nation members Caroline Parker and Nicholson Henry Parker, at left and center, and Japan's Sensaburo Kodzu, who attended the Normal School during the institution's first 25 years. (Photos courtesy of University Archives)

ALBANY, N.Y. (May 25, 2017) — Amid the homogeneous atmosphere that existed at the beginnings of this institution in the mid 19th Century, a few individuals proved to be both exceptions and exceptional.

An 1850 law of the New York Legislature established support ($1,000) to educate 10 American Indian youths per year at the state’s “normal and training schools.” The Albany Normal School, begun in 1844, wasted little time in enrolling its first two Indian students, Caroline G. Parker, in 1851, and Nicholson Henry Parker, in 1853 (the school would enroll 26 during the century). Both were of the Seneca Nation, and distantly related.

In the mid 1870s, Sensaburo Kodzu from Japan became the first documented international student at any of the campuses that would be part of the future State University of New York. He graduated in 1877.

Caroline Parker came to the Normal School already recognized as a highly skilled designer of clothing, which she often posed in herself (as with the photo above). She had an extraordinary level of education for a female of that period. She went on to teach and, through a thorough knowledge of English, became a sought-after translator for her community during the latter half of the 19th Century.

Nicholson Parker also went on to be a distinguished interpreter for his people. His grandson Arthur C. Parker (1881-1955), perhaps the most published Native American writer of his time, described him as “clerk of the Seneca nation, United States interpreter, census agent, marshal of the nation, orator, agriculturalist and civil engineer” and a “pioneer of progress among his people.”

Kodzu went on to teach five years at his alma mater before returning to Japan to become a leader of that nation’s normal school movement. Sad to say, however, he was ultimately caught up in some political intrigue and executed.

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