As an educator, I look forward to Teacher Appreciation Week each year. The students are a tad bit sweeter, Student Council gifts fresh sets of Paper Mate Flair pens, and the lounge is always stocked with sweet treats and slices of pizza. It’s pretty great. But Teacher Appreciation Week also encourages me to appreciate my fellow educators and past teachers a little more intentionally. It makes me want to check in with the first-year teacher next door to me and remind her that she’s doing an awesome job or send an appreciative Facebook message to Mrs. Picken, my favorite teacher from high school. Teacher Appreciation Week also makes me curious about the amazing educators in C-U history, one in particular being Dr. Miriam Fuller, a librarian of Leal School from 1967 to 1971.

Dr. Miriam Fuller made history as the first African American student to enroll at Virginia State University, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in library science with a minor in English. She went on to earn her master’s degree in 1968 and later her doctoral degree in 1989. She was a teacher and librarian in Big Stone Gap, Appalachia, Virginia before moving to Urbana in 1967. In Urbana, she served as the Leal School librarian for four years before moving to Jefferson City, Missouri in 1971. And let me tell you, Dr. Fuller didn’t waste any time during those four years in Urbana. In her short time at Leal School, Dr. Fuller used her talents and innovation to enhance learning for children and share her knowledge with the world. Here are a few of Dr. Fuller’s accomplishments during her short time in Urbana, Illinois.

Dr. Miriam Fuller, former Leal School Librarian, helps Gina Russel and Pamela Welk choose books.

Supported Integration & Representation

Dr. Fuller secured a collection of 100+ books about the Black community written by Black authors for Leal School in the effort to support community integration. The collection traveled to all Urbana elementary schools before becoming a permanent collection of the Leal School’s library. An article Dr. Fuller wrote about this collection was published in The School Library Journal.

Created Meaningful Learning for the Students of Leal School

When she realized the library skills she taught in her library would be more meaningful if it were correlated with classroom instruction, Dr. Fuller experimented her theory with a fourth-grade class. The following year the idea was incorporated into the classes at Leal School, and Leal School subsequently was rated first in the district in the library skills-references skills category.

Dr. Fuller helps students view film strips. Also pictured: David Barker, Paul Hobb, Eric Thomas, Ruth Nanny, Laura Jaraad, and Joanne Gorski.

Wrote Books for Beginner Readers Across the Nation

After an encounter with a tearful Leal School first grader about not being able to find a book she could read, Dr. Fuller became concerned about the lack of simple books for beginner readers. She decided to take matters into her own hands and write the books herself. After reaching out to the first-grade teachers and getting feedback from young readers, Dr. Fuller wrote a 12-volume Literature Appreciation Kit that was published by the Charles E. Merrill Publishing Co. Her books were used to supplement the Merrill Linguistic Readers used at Leal School. These books went on to be used for decades in public school systems across the nation.

Wrote a Biography Celebrating Poet Phillis Wheatley

Dr. Fuller also wrote a biography titled Phillis Wheatley, America’s First Black Poetess that was published by Garrard Publishing Co. of Champaign in 1971. In this biography, Dr. Fuller tells the story of Phillis Wheatley, a poet who wrote during the Revolutionary War period while she was enslaved in Boston.

Dr. Fuller helps Dirk Chalfant and Deborah Oehmke find resource materials.

After her four years in Urbana, Dr. Fuller continued on to be the first African American faculty member at the University of Missouri, where she taught for 17 years. She also established and managed two preschools in Jefferson City, MO for 22 years. Dr. Miriam Fuller passed away on September 2, 2023 at the age of 90.

Teacher’s Appreciation Week is May 6-10th this year, but we can celebrate it all month, or better yet, all year. I encourage you to honor Dr. Fuller in reaching out to the innovative and passionate teachers of the C-U area and showing your appreciation for all they do for our young scholars.

Dr. Fuller views a display case of an Urbana author with Marian Katz, Princillia Dreckami, and Laura Anderson.


-Maggie Weimer

Archives Assistant