Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

These Hallowed Halls: African American Women College and University Presidents

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

These Hallowed Halls: African American Women College and University Presidents

Article excerpt

Early laws prohibited African Americans from learning to read and write in the United States. The right to an education has produced a significant number of African American women acquiring higher education. Racial and gender diversity at the presidential level in higher education 4-year institutions appears to be changing rapidly. The data suggest that African American women have made tremendous strides in presidential appointments since the beginning of the twentieth century, but more appointments of women are needed to close the racial and gender gap at the helm of America's higher education institutions.

"Educate a woman and you educate a village. Educate a man and you educate one person."

Proverb from the Mandingo People of West Africa

In the inaugural volume of The Journal of Negro Education, Alva Hudson published an article titled, "Reading Achievements, Interests, and Habits of Negro Women" (Hudson, 1932). In this article she reported problematic issues in

[the] achievements of Negro women in oral reading, [their] rate and comprehension in silent reading, the types of reading in which they engage, the factors affecting their reading interests and habits, and the relationship between the kinds of recreational activities in which they engage and the types of material which they read. (1932, p. 367)

Seventy-five years ago, studies of African American women's reading habits, unlike White women's reading habits, were atypical. As an underserved group, no statistical data existed that provided definitive conclusions that African American women received instruction or went without instruction in the selection of literature valued for its aesthetic appeal. Hudson's findings from a mixed sampling of women with occupations ranging from the unemployed to teachers indicated "variations in the reading interests of different groups of adults" (p. 370). She concluded that "educational agencies [needed] to provide guidance which will increase the reading achievement of Negro women of limited education, and to improve their reading interests and tastes" (p. 373). Since the publication of Hudson's article, there has been increased attention devoted to the study of African American women in the academy. In fact, a special issue of The Journal of Negro Education on "Black Women in the Academy: Challenges and Opportunities (Bonner & Thomas, 2001) was devoted to Black women in higher education-their problems, tasks, and progress. Over the past several decades, African American women have emerged as one of the most accomplished groups in higher education in the midst of dealing with difficult challenges, such as systemic racism and sexism.


More than seven decades have passed since the revelations of Hudson's "reading habits" study. African American women have been able to effect change in their reading habits and in their academic achievement levels. African American women began to make gradual strides in the acquisition of formal and higher education and in educational attainments as early as the midnineteenth century (Evans, 2007). Historically, African American women strove against great odds to achieve formal education and higher education, paving the way for their descendants. Though the progression was difficult, attaining literacy was worth every violent act, every oppressive campaign, and every discriminatory law that these women endured from their detractors. They reconciled themselves to struggle in order to progress.

African American women, such as Mary Jane Patterson, Anna Julia Cooper, and Mary McLeod Bethune, were among the first to break down educational barriers and pave the way for future generations. Mary Jane Patterson (Bennett, 2003), for example, was the recipient of the baccalaureate from Oberlin College in 1862, the first African American woman awarded mis distinction. Also achieving breakthroughs, Anna Julia Cooper (Cooper, 1892) was the fourth African American woman in the United States to earn a PhD, the first woman and the first African American woman resident of Washington, DC to earn a PhD from the University Paris-Sorbonne in 1925; she also became the second president of Frelinghuysen University in Washington, DC in 1930 (Cooper, 1892). …

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