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Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander, one of the first black women to earn a PhD in the U.S.

January 02, 2019 at 08:00 am | History

Nduta Waweru

Nduta Waweru | Contributor

January 02, 2019 at 08:00 am | History

Photo: Wiki CC

In 1921, Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander, earned a PhD in Economics, making her one of the first black women in the United States to achieve this feat. The other black women who earned PhDs in the same year are Georgiana Simpson and Eva Dykes.

Born on this day in 1898, Alexander was the last child of Aaron A. Mossell and Mary Tanner Mossell. She graduated high school in 1915 and proceeded to the University of Pennslyvania to study education for her undergraduate and later earning her masters and doctorate at the same university.

Like many black people during this time, Alexander suffered discrimination because she was black.  She faced racism from both students and professors and was even denied entry into the Phi Beta Kappa. 

Photo: Wiki CC

The discrimination followed her into the work scene as she was unable to find work as a black woman in Pennsylvania, forcing her to move to North Carolina, where she worked at the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company for two years. In 1923, she went back to her state and married her college sweetheart, Raymond Pace Alexander. 

In 1924, Alexander became the first black woman to be admitted into the University of Pennsylvania school of law and eventually the first black woman to graduate and admitted to the Pennsylvania bar. She was
the assistant solicitor for the city of Philadelphia between 1928 and 1938. 

Alexander also made history as the first woman to be the secretary of the National Bar Association and would later be appointed to President Harry Truman’s Committee on Human Rights, whose report led to the calling for a federal law against lynching, the protection of the right to vote as well as a law against poll taxes.

Alexander worked as a lawyer until her retirement in 1982. She died from pneumonia complication from Alzheimer’s disease on November 1, 1989 in Andorra, Philadelphia.  

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