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Frances M. Finney, educator

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Frances M. Finney, who overcame poverty, earned a college degree and became a city school teacher, died April 19 from heart failure at Gilchrist Hospice Care in Towson. The Guilford resident was 82.

Frances Mae Hopkins was born in Baltimore and was raised in her maternal grandmother's Etting Street rowhouse.

"Like many African-American families in the 1930s and 1940s, she grew up poor and remembered being taunted by others because of the neighborhood where she lived," said a daughter, Joyce E. Stewart, who is director of implementation and compliance for the Housing Authority of Baltimore City.

"There were times when there was no food, so she went without, and there were times when she would stand and look longingly into the windows of Silber's Bakery on Monroe Street," said Ms. Stewart, who lives in Washington Village. "And there were times when money was so scarce her family could not pay for coal to keep the house warm."

After graduating from Douglass High School in 1948, she enrolled at what is now Morgan State University, where she earned a bachelor's degree in social studies in 1952.

"She put herself through college working for McCormick Caterers," her daughter said.

After graduating from college, she married Dr. James Cornelius Finney, a Morgan professor. The couple moved to Durham, N.C., when Dr. Finney joined the faculty of North Carolina Central College.

While living in Durham, Mrs. Finney became active in civil rights and played an instrumental role in desegregating the Duke University Library, her daughter said.

Mrs. Finney and her husband, along with their two daughters, returned to Baltimore in the early 1960s and purchased a home on Powhatan Avenue.

She resumed her civil rights activities, with many celebrities visiting her home.

"The Northwest Baltimore house saw many of those agents of change within its walls. James Earl Jones, Damita Joe and Ethel Waters came to visit," said Ms. Stewart. "So did Lenny Moore, Howard Roberts the Broadway producer, Wilt Chamberlain and many others."

After her marriage ended in the 1960s, Mrs. Finney was faced with being a single parent raising her two children.

She began her teaching career in 1961 in city public schools as a geography and history teacher. She taught at Lemmel Junior High School and Garrison Junior High School, and later became a guidance counselor at City College and Southern High School.

"She obtained a part-time job at the local movie theater and rented out part of her home. Known for her fashion flair, she purchased her clothing at thrift and consignment shops," said Ms. Stewart. "She learned how to turn one penny into five and with the same focus and determination that got her through college."

Mrs. Finney returned to college and earned a master's degree in guidance counseling from the Johns Hopkins University in 1968.

"Throughout her life, she never forgot her roots. She fought tirelessly to obtain quality education for families who faced financial challenges," said Ms. Stewart.

"She volunteered her time and energy advocating for better education for Baltimore's youth and often opened her home to disadvantaged children in hopes that she could inspire them to continue their education," she said.

Mrs. Finney was also active in Keep All Pupils in School and was project director of Student Community Services.

Mrs. Finney retired from Southern High in 1989.

"Years after she retired, people would walk up to her on the street and thank her for her tough love in the classroom," her daughter said.

Her professional memberships included the American Personnel and Guidance Association, American Psychotherapy Group Association, and the Community Psychiatric Clinic of the Johns Hopkins Hospital.

She sponsored a Girl Scout troop in earlier years and volunteered at the Red Cross and in the political campaigns of Parren J. Mitchell and Benjamin L. Cardin.

For many years, she was a communicant of St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church, where she had served on the vestry and was a lay minister.

Through her church, she organized an after-school program for children at Dallas-Nichols Elementary School, which gave them access to computers and a tutorial program.

"The program sought to prepare the children for state assessments and saw an improvement in the reading and math skills of the children because of this program," her daughter said.

For the last 32 years, Mrs. Finney lived at Winthrop House on North Charles Street, where she served on the condominium board and was a committee chair.

Mrs. Finney was a world traveler; some of the destinations she visited included the Great Wall of China, Tiananmen Square, Egypt, Shanghai, Jerusalem and London.

"She was even propositioned by an Italian count for a romantic tryst but declined," said Ms. Stewart with a laugh.

Mrs. Finney never lost her taste for civic activism or fighting injustice. In 2003, she was arrested with other members of The Women in Black, who marched in downtown Baltimore protesting the U.S. involvement in the Iraq War.

"She wore her arrest like a badge of honor and was tickled pink that her fight to stop a war garnered such attention by law enforcement and the media," her daughter said.

Mrs. Finney was communicant of the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, 5603 N. Charles St., where a celebration of her life service will be held at 10:30 a.m. June 1.

In addition to her daughter, Mrs. Finney is survived by another daughter, Joan E. Smothers of Mount Washington; and a grandson.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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