Mary Jane Patterson (d. 1894)

Mary Jane Patterson, 1862
(Oberlin College Archives)

Robert Samuel Fletcher, in his history of Oberlin College, gives Mary Jane Patterson the distinction of being "probably the first African Negro woman in the world" to attain the distinction of receving an A.B. degree. Without question, however, Patterson was the first African American woman to receive a bachelor's degree when she graduated from Oberlin College in 1862. Fletcher continues his history:

"Miss Patterson was born in Raleigh, North Carolina, and was brought to Oberlin in her early youth by her parents, probably fugitive slaves. She studied one year in the Preparatory Department and four years in the College before graduation. Upon receiving her degree she went to Philadelphia where she taught in the "Institute for Colored Youths" for seven years. In 1869 she went to Washington to teach and in 1871 became the first colored principal of the newly-established Preparatory High School for Negroes. She held the position until 1884, except for one year, and did much to build up the institution... After the appointment of a Negro man as her successor she continued as a teacher in the school until her death in 1894."

(Fletcher, A History of Oberlin College -- From its Foundation through the Civil War , Volume II, Oberlin, Ohio: Oberlin College, 1943, 534-535)


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