African-American College Firsts

Understanding one's past could be the key to developing a productive and lucrative future (Photo courtesy of Black History Album on flickr).

Understanding one’s past could be the key to developing a productive and lucrative future (Photo courtesy of Black History Album on flickr).

As the education industry trends more and more toward a world where higher education is simple a click away, one must look back at the history in order to truly appreciate the present. As discussed before, there are currently 105 historically black colleges and universities in the United States alone, and if one looks closely, he/she will notice that, with the exception of six, all are located in former slave states. Why is this? Because many were established after the Civil War; three of those located outside of former slave states were done so before the Civil War: Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, established in 1837, Lincoln University (Pennsylvania), established in 1854, and Wilberforce University, established in 1854.

Because of the development of historically black colleges and universities, more African-Americans could enroll and pursue a higher education without prejudice. In addition to these universities, many African-Americans in the United States helped lay the groundwork for these institutions before, during, and after the Civil War.

  • In 1823 Alexander Twilight became the first African-American to receive a degree from an American college; he graduated from Middlebury College.
  • Twenty-four years later, in 1847, Dr. David J. Peck graduated from Rush Medical College as the first African-American to graduate from an American medical school.
  • The first African-American college professor, Charles L. Reason, began teaching in 1849 at New York Central College.
  • Renamed Lincoln University in 1866, Ashmun Institute in Pennsylvania, in 1854, was the first higher education institute created to educate African-Americans.
  • Sarah Jane Woodson Early was the first African-American female college instructor; she taught at Wilberforce College beginning in 1858.
  • Wilberforce University, located in Ohio, became the first African-American owned and operated college in the U.S. in 1863.
  • Also in 1863, Bishop Daniel Payne became the first president of a college: Wilberforce University.
  • In 1870 Richard Theodore Greener, the first African-American to graduate from Harvard College, walked across the stage.
  • Georgetown College, in 1874, employed the first African-American president of a major college or university: Father Patrick Francis Healy, S.J.
  • Conferred in 1876, Edward Alexander Bouchet became not only the first African-American to graduate from Yale College, but also the first to earn a doctorate degree from an American University.
  • The first known African-American female to graduate from a college in the U.S. was Hortense Parker from Mount Holyoke College in 1883.
  • William H. Lewis was the first African-American to play college football; he played for Harvard University starting in 1892.
  • Known true “jack of all trades”, W.E.B. Du Bois, in 1895, was the first African-American to earn a doctorate degree from Harvard University.
  • Established by African-Americans in 1906 as the first intercollegiate Greek-letter fraternal organization was Alpha Phi Alpha; the first sorority was Alpha Kappa Alpha two years later in 1908.
  • Otelia Cromwell earned her Ph.D. from Yale University in 1926; she was the first African-American female to do so.
  • The first graduate of Harvard Business School was Lillian Lincoln in 1969.

Ashley Benson is a distance education professional with five years of experience in the for-profit sector. She has worked coast-to-coast within the United States as an academic advisor, an adjunct teaching assistant and, most recently, a campus Registrar. Through formal education and industry experience, Ashley practices staying informed on the current events and changes within higher education and the students involved.

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