Mary Jane Patterson, the first African-American woman to obtain a BA degree

Farida Dawkins May 21, 2018
Mary Jane Patterson

Mary Jane Patterson was born on September 12, 1840, in Raleigh, North Carolina.  Henry Patterson, her father moved his family to Oberlin, Ohio after obtaining his freedom.  He later became a master mason and was instrumental in housing numerous black college students at the Patterson household.

Oberlin had a large population of blacks: both free and runaway slaves. The city was also known for having a racially integrated co-ed college.

In 1857, Patterson began a one-year preparatory course at Oberlin College.  She then proceeded to enter the four-year gentleman’s course in classics, taking up courses such as mathematics, Latin and Greek. The curriculum was strictly formulated for men and women weren’t encouraged to undertake the program.

In 1862, Patterson graduated with honors and received her bachelor’s degree.  Her oldest brother John along with siblings Emma and Chanie Ann also graduated from Oberlin College and went on to become teachers.

Patterson accepted a teaching position in Chillicothe, Ohio in 1863.  By the following year, she moved to Philadelphia where she worked in the female Department of the Institute for Colored Youth.

In 1869 Patterson moved to Washington, D.C. where she began teaching at the recently formulated Preparatory High School for Colored Youth. She was the school’s first black principal, serving from 1871 to 1874.  While at the preparatory school, a teacher-training department was initiated as were commencements.

Patterson was also involved in various projects such as the upkeep of the Home for the Aged and Infirm Colored People. She was also a member of the Colored Woman’s League of Washington, D.C.

Patterson died on September 24, 1894, in Washington, D.C. She was 54 years old.  Patterson was survived by her siblings.

It is imperative to note that in 1852, Grace A. Mapps graduated from the New York Central College at McGrawville. The type of degree if any at all that Mapps received is not documented.

Last Edited by:Francis Akhalbey Updated: May 31, 2018


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