Black History Month 2014: The first Black woman to… become a physician in the United States

Mary Jane Patterson

Mary Jane Patterson

Every year for Black History Month I explore the obvious and not so obvious parts of American history that those called Black have taken part in. The things that we (Black people) have done other than be stolen from our homeland and made forced labor in a land foreign to us. I’m going to start this series by looking up the first time someone African-American did something and broke the color barrier in that activity or field. I’ll be starting with Wikipedia and working my way out:

I will be learning a lot of this as I go since I am a product of the standardized Euro/Anglo/Caucasian leaning public school system. I hope you enjoy learning with me. I’ll be going down the list chronologically as it appears in the Wikipedia article.

For my twenty-fifth entry this month:

1862:  First African-American woman to earn a B.A.: Mary Jane Patterson, Oberlin College

Mary Jane Patterson (born September 12, 1840, in Raleigh, North Carolina) was the first African-American woman to receive a B.A degree. She was the oldest of Henry Irving Patterson and Emeline Eliza (Taylor) Patterson’s children. There is conflicting data on how many siblings she had, but most sources cite between seven and ten. Henry Patterson worked as a bricklayer and plasterer who gained his freedom, after Mary was born, in 1852. After this, he moved his family north to Ohio. The Pattersons settled in Oberlin, Ohio, in 1856. Oberlin had a large community of black families, some were freed slaves and some were fugitive slaves. Oberlin was popular because it had a racially integrated co-ed college. Henry Patterson worked as a master mason, and for many years the family boarded large numbers of Black students in their home.


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