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Debbie Mauldin Cottrell

NELSON, JULIA BULLARD (1842–1914). Julia Bullard Nelson, teacher of newly freed blacks in Texas, was born on May 13, 1842, in High Ridge, Connecticut, the daughter of Edward and Angeline (Raymond) Bullard. As a child she lived with her family in Denmark, Iowa, and Wacouta, Minnesota, where her father farmed and ran several businesses. After her secondary education, Julia attended Hamline University in Red Wing, Minnesota, then pursued a teaching career in Minnesota and Connecticut. In 1866 she married Ole Nelson, a Civil War veteran and classmate from Hamline. The Nelsons, whose son was born in 1867, lived on a farm in Minnesota. Within a period of five months in 1868 and 1869, however, Julia's son and husband both died, and at age twenty-six she faced the future alone. She decided to return to teaching and had a specific interest in helping the most needy citizens in the country. She applied to the American Missionary Association in New York City, which was seeking teachers to send to schools it had established in the South for newly freed blacks. The AMA was a multidenominational outgrowth of the American Antislavery Society and often worked closely with the Freedmen's Bureau. The association appealed to Julia Nelson because of her own knowledge of the underground railroad from her childhood in Iowa and also because of her family's affiliation with both Congregational and Methodist churches that were strongly opposed to slavery. The AMA accepted her application and assigned her to Houston, and over the objections of many of her family members, she moved to Texas in 1869.

Nelson found a warm greeting among African Americans in Houston but became ill soon after her arrival and was unable to teach. When she recovered, the AMA reassigned her to Columbus. The work of teaching blacks in Texas at this time was greatly hindered by hostility from whites, lack of supplies, and scarcity of teachers. However, by the time Julia Nelson came to Texas, the Freedmen's Bureau had made education one of its top priorities; by 1870 it had sixty-six schools in the state. Although the bureau officially ceased its educational work in Texas soon after Nelson arrived, schools for blacks remained, and teachers like her continued to be sent to staff them. In Columbus she was initially the only teacher in the black school, and she met the expected opposition from local whites to her work. However, even in these conditions the school flourished, enrolling up to eighty students and serving as a church on Sundays. Nelson taught in Columbus for four years, during which time she also wrote numerous articles about her work for Northern newspapers. Additional teachers eventually joined her, and her job expanded to include school supervision, night classes for adults, assessment of needs for additional Northern teachers in the area, and maintenance of the school as a community center. Conditions at the school were poor. Gail Borden, Jr., once furnished money to pay the teachers' salaries, and Nelson frequently bought her own firewood to keep the school warm.

She left Texas in 1873 to return to Minnesota because her mother was ill. She subsequently became active in the Woman's Christian Temperance Union and in the cause of woman suffrage. In 1875 she returned to the South and taught in black schools organized by Quakers in Tennessee. During this time she also organized a Congregational church and became an outspoken advocate of prohibition. She left the South permanently in 1888 and returned to Minnesota, where she worked for the state temperance union, lectured for the national suffrage organization, served as president of the state suffrage association, and worked with the newly formed People's party, which favored woman suffrage.

In 1897 Nelson joined a local black business leader to operate a butcher shop in Red Wing called the Equal Rights Meat Market. She also became active in real estate ventures in the area and helped raise two of her sister's children. On December 24, 1914, she died in Red Wing. In her will she left the majority of her money to a black colleague she had worked with in Tennessee, whom she referred to as being like a son to her. This action left many of her relatives bitter and led citizens of Red Wing to express disapproval. Her home in Red Wing was later designated a historic site.

Julia Wiech Lief, "A Woman of Purpose: Julia B. Nelson," Minnesota History 47 (Winter 1981).

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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, Debbie Mauldin Cottrell, "NELSON, JULIA BULLARD," accessed April 08, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fnecu.

Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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