Hettie V. Williams, Ph.D., associate professor of African American history in the Department of History and Anthropology, recently shared her essay “Black Women and Columbia University Before Brown v. Board” with the American Historical Association’s membership under the #Everythinghasahistory column. The essay was published first on Black Perspectives, a blog of the African American Intellectual History Society (AAIHS).
The essay discusses the early twentieth century history of African American women at Columbia University, particularly its affiliate schools and graduate programs such as Teachers College, Columbia, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and Barnard. Williams notes that before Zora Neale Hurston became the first Black woman to graduate from Barnard in 1928, hundreds of African American women attended Teachers College and graduate programs at Columbia before the historic Supreme Court Decision in Brown v. Board of Education, Topeka, Kansas in 1954 that declared segregation in public schools unconstitutional.
Williams explores the many notable Black women who attended the summer program at Teacher’s College, including feminist and civil rights activist Anna Julia Cooper, education reformer Lucy Diggs Slowe, activist and anthropologist Eslanda Goode Robeson, and medical doctor May Edward Chinn. These women were pioneers across several fields.
Williams, who is the president of AAIHS, is currently working on a book tentatively titled “Laboratory of Democracy: Black Women at Columbia University Before 1954.” This will be the first book ever published about Black women at Columbia University before the rise of the Civil Rights Movement and the first book solely devoted to the history of Black women at an Ivy League institution.
The American Historical Association is the largest professional organization for historians worldwide. It is an association that supports historians across all fields. This organization on occasion shares the best essays in history under the column #Everythinghasahistory with members.