Eliza Finch Coffin (1830-1907) was a Quaker civil rights worker for both Black education and equality, as well as women’s suffrage. Later in her life, she worked in the field of prison reform. Eliza Finch Coffin was born in Chatham, NY and as a young woman came to Lincoln, VA to teach at Springdale School. In 1854, she married John Janney, oldest son of the school’s founders, Samuel M. and Elizabeth Janney. John died in early 1858 of a chronic illness, possibly tuberculosis. In his Memoirs Samuel Janney described the sad circumstances of his son’s death. Eliza was now the single parent of two young children, Samuel and Clarissa, who was born a few months after John’s death.
Eliza stayed close to her in-laws, Samuel and Elizabeth Janney and remained in Lincoln to help manage the Janney & Son store. In 1877 Eliza married Edward Rawson, who had come down to Lincoln, Virginia from New York, to teach at Springdale School. (Springdale was now a boarding and day school for Quaker boys and girls, managed by Baltimore Yearly Meeting.)
In 1899, Eliza Janney Rawson wrote a series of articles for the Friends’ Intelligencer about her former father-in-law Samuel M. Janney. In the articles much is learned about the Lincoln community and experiences during the years before and during war. The Friends’ Intelligencer was published weekly, printed in Philadelphia. It carried news of interest to the Society of Friends, and had national coverage.
Toward the end of the essay printed below, Eliza mentions freedmen Oscar Carey, who was a paid employee of the Janney family. There surely must be more information, somewhere, about him and his family! Eliza Rawson’s essay also makes reference to Underground Railroad activity of the Janneys. This is an outright statement as fact, from an eye-witness at the time, that unequivocally connects the Janneys to the UGRR.
The following Friends Intelligencer May 20, 1899 column written by Eliza Janney Rawson is my personal favorite. Though still primarily focused on Samuel M. Janney, Eliza veres to other topics and shows her own sense of humor several times in this essay. She shares information about Lucretia Mott, Nelson Talbot Gant, and a certain set of Confederate soldiers she waited on in the Janney store who were there for more than just a purchase of caps:
Eliza had been instramental in starting a school for African American children at the war’s end in 1865. A short few sentences included in a Lincoln School centenial history brochure mentions ‘a prominent colored school.’ That was ‘Colored School B,’ the school opened by Eliza Janney and her mother-in-law Elizabeth Janney, with no help from the Loudoun County Freedmen’s Bureau. The school was also supported for decades by Elizabeth’s and Samuel M. Janney’s daughter, Cornelia.
An obituary written for the Friends Intelligencer on August 24, 1907 gives only a partial synopsis of this woman’s eventful and self-less life:
The photo at the top of this page, showing Eliza Coffin Janney Rawson, is from a private collection and shown courtesy of Rachel Janney. Eliza Rawson appears as we would expect her to be: strong and confident, looking directly out at the viewer. How fortunate that we have a picture of this exceptional woman, Eliza Rawson.