Salute To Iconic Women: Mary Jane Patterson

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Mar. 10 2013, Published 3:00 a.m. ET

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Occupation: Educator

How she made her mark: Mary Jane Patterson is known as the first African-American woman to receive a B.A. degree.

Mary Jane Patterson was born a slave in Raleigh, North Carolina in 1840. When she was young, her family migrated to Oberlin, Ohio. In 1857 at the age of 17, she completed a year of preparatory work at Oberlin College. Instead of transitioning to Oberlin’s two-year program for women, she enrolled in what was known as Oberlin’s “gentlemen’s course,” which was a four year program in classical studies that led her to becoming the first African American women to receive a bachelors degree in 1862.

Patterson went on to teach in Chillicothe, Ohio but is most known for teaching in Philadelphia’s Institute for Colored Youth and Washington D.C’s newly founded Preparatory High School for Colored Youth; now Paul Laurence Dunbar High School. In 1871, Patterson become the principal of the Preparatory school and served for a year after being replaced by Richard T. Greener, the first African-American graduate of Harvard University. After Greener stepped down as principal, Patterson resumed her role as principal until retirement in 1884.

After retirement, Patterson was instrumental in helping found the Colored Women’s League of D.C. Mary Jane Patterson died September 24, 1894 at the age of 54. Her home is now a D.C. historical landmark.

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