College Renames President's House in Honor of Slave, Janitor

Colby College in Maine is recognizing a slave and longtime janitor by naming the President’s House after him. 

President David Greene announced that the President’s House will now be called the "Osborne House," to honor Samuel Osborne. 

"He was an extraordinary figure on this campus," said Greene, who discovered Osborne’s story while researching the college’s history with race for a Martin Luther King Day speech. 

Osborne was born a slave in Virginia. He met a member of the Union Army who was a Colby College graduate, and after the Civil War they came to Maine. 

Osborne took a job as a janitor, cleaning every building on the Waterville campus by himself for a few hundred dollars a year. He had a wife and seven children – two of whom went to Colby. His daughter Marion would become the first African American woman to graduate. 

"They lived their lives with a certain amount of joy that’s hard to imagine, given the hardships they must have suffered for most of their lives," said Greene. 

The charismatic custodian became a popular presence on campus over the years. Greene said he would host students for Thanksgiving, and even speak at Commencement. When Osborne died in 1904, the Colby College President and Chair of the Board of Trustees were his pallbearers. 

"That says a lot about the impact he had here in his time," said Greene. 

When the President announced his home would receive the new name, it inspired students who learned the Osborne family story. 

"I had no idea," said Colby Student Body Co-President Liz Paulino. She said she was especially touched by the story of Marion Osborne. 

"It’s a woman of color surviving, and striving, and living her best life in an institution that wasn’t meant for her," said Paulino. "That really makes me feel as though students of color have a place here. Colby wouldn’t be the place it is, without the hard work of people of color." 

Contact Us