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How the Daughter of a Slave Became the First African-American Woman to Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

Black Women in History

How the Daughter of a Slave Became the First African-American Woman to Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

In 1862, a young woman stood at a podium at Oberlin College and gave a graduation address, just like every other member of her graduating class. But, in some respects, Mary Jane Patterson was not like her fellow students. She was both African-American and a woman — and as she addressed the audience on the subject of Giuseppe Garibaldi’s revolutionary career in Italy, she was on the verge of becoming the first black woman in the United States known to have earned a bachelor’s degree.

It’s hard to track Patterson’s early life. Historians do know that she was the daughter of a slave, but it’s unclear if her father, a master mason, escaped slavery or was freed by his master. In any case, the Patterson family ended up in Oberlin, Ohio. At the time, Oberlin was a haven for African-Americans. Home to a large black population, it was known as an abolitionist town and one that regularly protected fugitive slaves. It was also home to Oberlin College, which had admitted African-American students since 1835.

Unlike many colleges, Oberlin admitted not only African-Americans, but also women. Black students had graduated from the school, but without a four-year collegiate bachelor’s degree. Patterson…

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Chrysalis

I am a future butterfly at the stage of growth when I am turning into an adult. I am enclosed in a hard case shell formed by love, family, and friends. It is the hardest stage of becoming a black butterfly. You will encounter many hardships only to come out stronger and better than what you went in. At this stage, you are finding out who you truly are and how to love yourself.

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