Black On Campus
Higher Education and the African American Experience

Black Higher Education Firsts, #2

May 5th, 2007 by Ajuan Mance

Here are the most recent additions to the Black Milestones in Higher Education timeline that I maintain over at

1883 — Hortense Parker becomes the first African American to graduate from Mount Holyoke Female Seminary. In 1898 Martha Ralston would become the first African American to graduate from the newly reconfigured Mount Holyoke College.  According to Linda Perkins (in her article “Racial Integration at the Seven Sister Colleges,” in The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education), “the race of both Ralston and Parker was a surprise to the officials of the college when they first arrived” (Perkins, JBHE: No 19, p. 105). 

 Anita Florence Hemmings

Anita Florence Hemmings

1897 — Anita Florence Hemmings becomes the first African American to graduate from Vassar College. While she was enrolled, however, Vassar officials were unaware that she was Black. In 1927 Hemmings’s daughter Ellen Parker Love graduated from Vassar. It is unlikely, however, that Vassar officials knew that she was Black either. Her application listed her ethnicity as French and English. Vassar was noted for its resistance to admitting Black women, even women like Hemmings and Love who could pass for white.

1898 — Alberta Scott becomes the first African American woman to graduate from Radcliffe College. Scott would go on to teach at Tuskegee Instititue until 1900, when illness forced her to return to her childhood home in Cambridge, Massachusetts where she would remain until her death in 1903, at the age of 27. 

 Otelia Cromwell

Otelia Cromwell

1900 — Otelia Cromwell becomes the first African American woman to graduate from Smith College. The daughter of John Wesley Cromwell, she would go on to study in Germany and to earn a master’s degree from Columbia University (1910). In 1926 she would become the first African American woman to earn at Ph.D. from Yale (English).

1931 — Enid Cook becomes the first African American to graduate from Bryn Mawr College.  Linda Perkins explains, “In 1903, Jessie Fauset, an African American from Philadelphia, graduated at the top of her class at the city’s Girls’ High. It was customary that the school’s top student would enter Bryn Mawr on scholarship, but when it was discovered that Fauset was black, President Thomas raised money for Fauset to attend Cornell rather than have a black woman attend Bryn Mawr” (Perkins, JBHE: No 19, p. 106).  ** Belle Tobias becomes the first Black graduate of Barnard College. A Phi Beta Kappa graduate, Tobias would go on to earn a master’s degree from Wellesley College in 1932.

1970 — Nathaniel Owens becomes the first African American to graduate from Sewanee, The University of the South. Owens graduated with honors in English. Drafted right out of college by the Cincinnati Bengals, Owens decided to forgo a professional football career, choosing instead to enroll in Sewanee’s law school.

Posted by Ajuan Mance

Posted in African American Students, Barnard College, Black History, Bryn Mawr, Higher Education, Mount Holyoke College, race, Radcliffe College, Seven Sisters, Sewanee, Smith College, Vassar College, Wellesley, Wellesley College, Women

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