Mary Jane Patterson Was the First Black Woman to Graduate From College in the U.S.

Mary Jane Patterson, first Black woman to graduate college

Born into slavery in 1840, Mary Jane Patterson was a pioneer in education and was the first Black woman to receive a degree from a 4-year accredited college in the United States. Although Patterson is not a well-known figure, she is an important woman in history because she left an impact for other Black female educators to follow her footsteps.She earned a bachelor's degree in 1862 from Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio. Afterwards, she began her career as a teacher in Chillicothe, Ohio.

In 1865, Patterson began working at Philadelphia's Institute for Colored Youth as the assistant to Fanny Jackson Chopin, an American educator, missionary, and a lifelong advocate for female higher education. Later she moved to Washington, DC to teach at the infamous Preparatory High School for Colored Youth, where from 1871 to 1872, she served as the school's very first Black principal. She was, however, later demoted to assistant principal. But in 1873, she was reappointed as principal and continued to teach as well.

During her administration, she helped to establish the school's strong intellectual standards and added a teacher-training department that helped increase the number of students. Patterson was also a humanitarian and was active in many organizations. She dedicated a lot of time and money to Black institutions in Washington, DC, and was part of the local Colored Woman's League.

Sadly, in 1894, Mary Jane Patterson passed away at the young age of just 54-years old.