Dr. Anna Porter Burrell; "A Quiet Break Through."

By Lettko, Karen | Afro-Americans in New York Life and History, January 2003 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Dr. Anna Porter Burrell; "A Quiet Break Through."

Lettko, Karen, Afro-Americans in New York Life and History

When we look at how change comes about in society, we often look to major events or prominent persons and attribute change to them. For example, when we think of desegregation, the famous court case Brown vs. Board of Education (1954) comes to mind. Further, we associate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., with the success of The Civil Rights Movement. Yet, change is a progressive process and takes place over time. It is often a slow process that is the culmination of the acts of many ordinary people who are not well known. Therefore, it is important to investigate "smaller" events, those on the local and regional level, and the people involved in them, to understand how change takes place over time. One such person worthy of study is Dr. Anna Porter Burrell.

Dr. Burrell was the first African American faculty member to be hired at Buffalo State College. Hired in 1948, she set the precedent at the college for hiring African American faculty. Setting the precedent or being the "first" involves tremendous responsibility. She carried her responsibility well and opened the door so that others could follow. Dr. E. O. Smith, chair of the History and Social Studies Department at Buffalo State College, referred to Burrell's success at the college as a "quiet break through." (2) This remark was in no way intended to make light of her accomplishments. Quite the opposite is true, it described her ability to break through and overcome barriers in her professional career.

"Quiet break through" refers to the fact that there was no major event that made her well known or famous. If it was not for the fact that Burrell was of African American descent she may have been overlooked in the history of Buffalo State College. Yet, because of her race she was able to make a difference. Her career focused on the worth and dignity of the individual to create a more harmonious society. Because she was well respected among the faculty and the students at the college her message had a receptive audience.

To begin Burrell's story we need to examine her own education, how she was hired at the college and what she wrote and lectured about so that we can get a better perspective of her, as an individual. She did not come to the college until she was forty-four years old and it would be a distortion to ignore those prior years. Burrell grew up in Philadelphia, PA. and attended high school and Normal school there (a two year training college for teachers), graduating in 1921. Even as late as 1940, 93% of African Americans had not completed high school. (3) At that time a career in teaching was one of the few acceptable avenues open to females who wished to pursue higher education. (4)

Burrell continued to defy the statistics, and enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania and attained her B.S. Degree in chemistry, in 1923. She spent the next two years teaching chemistry at Lincoln University. To strive to improve her own education she returned to the University of Pennsylvania to complete her M.S. Degree in medical sciences in 1926. These facts alone do not fully explain her educational accomplishments. First, the financial aspect of paying for her education cannot be over looked because it tells us what was important to her family and to her. While attending the University of Pennsylvania she did not receive any financial aid, scholarship, or funds from outside employment. (5) From this information it can be assumed that her parents were supportive of her educational pursuits. Her father worked as a minister, which was a respected profession, and her mother did not work outside of the home. (6) The emotional and financial support she received from her family was essential, especially since she was studying in a field that was outside the normal realm for females and for an African American attending a Northern white college.

In 1926, the year Burrell received her M.S. Degree, the University of Pennsylvania awarded only eighty-one M.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Dr. Anna Porter Burrell; "A Quiet Break Through."


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?