Black Women and the Advancement of Higher Education

Time and time again, it has been proven that educated citizens can tremendously impact society in a positive way, and there has been a push for governments, both on state and national levels, to pledge their commitment to ensuring educational opportunity for all.

Black female student

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Predominantly, the opportunity for education needs to be present for those whom that opportunity has been elusive throughout history. Minorities, particularly women of color, haven’t been afforded the same opportunities for higher education, despite a rich history of their groundbreaking contributions to the cause of education in America.

Here are just a few women of color who have kicked in the schoolhouse door.

Dr. Johnetta Cole

When Dr. Cole was named president of Spelman College in 1987, she became the first black female President of the small liberal arts women’s college, also one of the oldest historically black colleges (HBC) for women in America. Under her leadership, the SAT scores of incoming freshman consistently ranked higher than any other HBC in the nation, earning the college the title as one of the top regional liberal arts colleges in the South by U.S. News and World Report magazine.

Dr. Martha Euphemia Lofton Haynes

After becoming the first black woman to earn her Ph.D. in Mathematics from The Catholic University in Washington, D.C. in 1943, Dr. Haynes then went on to establish the first mathematics department at Miner Teachers College, known today as the District of Columbia Teachers College, and serve as Chair of the Division of Mathematics and Education. In 1966, she played an instrumental role in integrating the DC public school system as the first woman to chair the District of Columbia School Board.

President Shirley Jackson, Ph.D.

Adding to the list of notable women of color who’ve made significant strides for the cause of education, Dr. Jackson was the first black female to receive a doctorate in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1973. Twenty-two years later, she was named the first black person and first woman to serve as chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and was also the first black woman elected to the National Academy of Engineering. To top off her list of impressive firsts, Dr. Jackson became the first black female to lead a major technological institute when in 1999 she was named the President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, a position she holds to this day.