Executive director of West End Day Nursery from 1969 until 1979, New Bedford’s Eleanor W. Morton (1915-2006) was an educator, community leader and social activist. A 1939 graduate of the historically Black Wilberforce University in Ohio, Eleanor joined Delta Sigma Theta sorority there, was a life member for 66 years, and helped establish a local chapter that awards an annual scholarship in her name.
Educator, community leader and social activist, Eleanor W. Morton (1915-2006) spent her life trying to improve the lives of others. Eleanor was a New Bedford native, giving back to her community by becoming an educator and getting involved with various boards and committees. A valued member of Delta Sigma Theta for 66 years, she held numerous positions in this sorority while studying science at Wilberforce University in Ohio.
Eleanor was born Eleanor Williams on December 9th, 1915 to Moses and Elnora (Joseph) Williams in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Her father Moses was a veteran and a firefighter for the city of New Bedford, and her mother Elnora M. Williams would go on to found the West End Day Nursery in 1941. This was a notable accomplishment because it was one of the only Black-owned and operated companies of its kind. Eleanor was a cum laude graduate of New Bedford High School. In 1939, she completed her fourth year studying science at Wilberforce University in Ohio. While attending Wilberforce, she would join the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority and hold various positions while serving on multiple committees. She was awarded a 50+ pin for having been a Delta Dear for 66 years. In 1987, she helped establish the Norfolk-Plymouth County Area Alumnae Chapter. This chapter awards a scholarship annually to a student in honor of Eleanor’s legacy.
By the 1940s, Eleanor was working as a public school teacher in New Bedford. Like her mother, in 1969 she would become the director of the West End Day Nursery. Her son Harold W. Morton explains, “My grandmother Elnora M. Williams was the founder and first executive director of the West End Day Nursery of New Bedford in 1941 until 1969. . . . My mother became the second-generation executive director in 1969 until 1979. At that time I became the third generation executive director.” Eleanor loved being with people, especially the children at the West End Day Nursey.
Eleanor collected African American art and tracked her family’s lineage. She was a genealogist, researching and documenting her family’s ancestry, specifically authenticating membership in the Troy Band of the Wampanoag Nation. Her son Harold states, “I recalled when I was under 10 years old my mother would regularly let me and my brother know that we were descendants of Indian chiefs and African kings.” She was proud of her heritage.
Eleanor was a lifetime member of the NAACP and received a posthumous award from that organization in 2017. She was a member of the West End Investment Club, the Martha Briggs Educational Club, the New Bedford Vocational School Board, and the New Bedford Recreation Committee. She was also a devoted member of the Bethel AME church in New Bedford and served on several committees during her time there. Her son says his mother “was very religious and played the piano at Bethel AME Church.” At the church she was a trustee, Sunday School superintendent, president of the Martha D. Webb Missionary Society and president of the Lay Organization. She lived a full eventful life that was dedicated to helping her community. Eleanor passed away at age 90 on Wednesday, July 12th, 2006 after battling a very long illness.
Yadriana Williams, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, Class of 2022 (Elisabeth Arruda, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Faculty Sponsor) with Ann O’Leary, Emily Bourne Research Fellow