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Anna Taylor Sweringen/Michal Scott: Mary Jane Patterson — First African American Woman to Receive a B.A. (Contest)
Sunday, May 26th, 2024

UPDATE: The winner is…BN!

Do pioneers think to themselves, “I want to be first” or does becoming a first happen because they choose not to accept limitations? I believe the latter was the case for Mary Jane Patterson.

Mary Jane was born enslaved September 12, 1840, in North Carolina. After her father gained his freedom, he took the family to Oberlin, Ohio, in the mid-1850s. There, Mary Jane completed preparatory coursework at Oberlin College in 1857. She then enrolled in their four-year program of classical studies for men instead of the two-year course of study for women. She was not the first African American woman to graduate from a college, but this made her the first African American woman documented to have received a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1862. She graduated with high honors in 1862 and gave a graduation address on the Italian revolutionary Giuseppe Garibaldi. Think of it. She does this while the Civil War is raging.

After graduation, she moved to Philadelphia and taught at Fanny Jackson Coppin’s Institute for Colored Youth. In 1869, she moved to Washington D.C. and taught at the Preparatory High School for Negroes. In 1871, she became their first colored principal and, except for one year when she served as assistant principal, held the position until 1884 when she resigned but continued to teach. During her tenure, the school grew from less than 50 to 172 students.

Like many African American women of her era, Mary Jane gave time and money to community organizations which focused on uplifting the race. Her involvement in women’s rights led her to help found the Colored Women’s League of Washington, D.C.

In Hallie Q. Brown’s Homespun Heroines and Other Women of Distinction published in 1926, Mary Jane is described as one who “blazed a trail that many have followed and will follow, ever choosing the highest and hardest courses and ever overcoming.” She died at the age of 54 on September 24, 1894.

So once again I wonder if pioneers consciously decide “I want to be the first” or do they have a natural determination that just makes it so? I’d love to hear what you think. For a chance at a $10 Amazon gift card share your response in the comments.

One Breath Away by Michal Scott

Sentenced to hang for a crime she didn’t commit, former slave Mary Hamilton was exonerated at literally the last gasp. She returns to Safe Haven, broken and resigned to live alone. She’s never been courted, cuddled or spooned, and now no man could want her, not when sexual satisfaction comes only with the thought of asphyxiation. But then the handsome stranger who saved her shows up, stealing her breath from across the room and promising so much more.


“Why, Miss Hamilton, I do believe you ‘re blushing.” His fingers held hers with a teasing yet possessive grip.

“I am not.” Her words shot out with a force she hadn’t intended. “I mean I don’t blush.”

“No?” A cheeky boyishness winked at her from eyes as dark as chocolate. He leaned down so his breath tickled her earlobe. “Not even if I kissed you behind your ear?”

She shrank back then stared up into the gaze showering her with attention. Her heart beat beneath her breast with a prisoner’s unease. An unease she knew well having once been a prisoner.

“You—you wouldn’t.”

His smile widened into a grin. “Only because I don’t want to embarrass you.”

The amusement in his voice coaxed forth a wet response that Mary clenched her vaginal muscles to stem. She swallowed repeatedly until she found her voice.

“You still haven’t answered me, sir. Of all the women here, why did you pick me?”

“Why not you?”

She blinked. Why not her? The answers swirled through her mind as easily as she and Eban swirled in this waltz.

Why not her?

Because she remained planted among the wallflowers by the time the musicians played the last song at every Safe Haven dance. Because she learned to hang back at the call of “Ladies’ Choice,” forewarned of rejection by the grimaces caused by her approach.

Because unlike desperate-for-a-man Felicity, Mary refused to dance on her back in some dark field just so she wouldn’t be a woman who ain’t been asked.

Ain’t been asked to court.

Ain’t been asked to spoon.

Ain’t been asked to the altar.

And never would be.



14 comments to “Anna Taylor Sweringen/Michal Scott: Mary Jane Patterson — First African American Woman to Receive a B.A. (Contest)”

  1. Anna Taylor Sweringen
    · May 26th, 2024 at 7:13 am · Link

    As always thanks for letting my share my love of African American women on your blog.

  2. BN
    · May 26th, 2024 at 10:19 am · Link

    maybe both

  3. Pansy Petal
    · May 26th, 2024 at 10:35 am · Link

    What a lovely history you have shared. I really don’t believe one thinks about being the first to do something. They are simply open to opportunities and brave enough to respond, as well as unaccepting of limitations and the determination to make it happen. It is history that labels them “the first” at something.

  4. Debra Guyette
    · May 26th, 2024 at 2:59 pm · Link

    I think it is a natural determination to do what you want no matter what others tell you.

  5. flchen
    · May 26th, 2024 at 3:55 pm · Link

    I imagine that many of those who end up being labeled this way don’t have that in mind as the goal when they begin. But I do think that they all likely share a tenacity and a fierceness of spirit that helps them keep on until they succeed at whatever they’re aiming for. Good for Mary Jane Patterson and all those who have since followed in her footsteps!

  6. Mary Preston
    · May 26th, 2024 at 4:23 pm · Link

    I don’t feel like being the first would be of great importance. Just doing would be all important.

  7. Anna Taylor Sweringen
    · May 26th, 2024 at 4:46 pm · Link

    Both works. Could be they’re inseparable, BN.

  8. Anna Taylor Sweringen
    · May 26th, 2024 at 4:48 pm · Link

    Good point, Pansy. Being open and brave enough to respond is on point. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Anna Taylor Sweringen
    · May 26th, 2024 at 4:48 pm · Link

    True, Debra. You have to be willing the march to your own drummer. Thanks for commenting.

  10. Anna Taylor Sweringen
    · May 26th, 2024 at 4:52 pm · Link

    Tenacity and fierceness of spirit is absolutely true, flchen.

  11. Anna Taylor Sweringen
    · May 26th, 2024 at 4:53 pm · Link

    So true, Mary. One thing I didn’t share was how for one year Mary Jane served as assistant principal because they gave the principal position to black male Harvard graduate who only stayed for a year. She returned to the position and retired from there. She was determined to serve because doing the job was what mattered. Thanks for sharing.

  12. Jennifer Beyer
    · May 26th, 2024 at 8:12 pm · Link

    I think that there are humans that are hardwired to be the first. I don’t think they think of themselves that way as they are doing it. I think they are driven by something that tells them they must keep pushing through.

  13. Anna Taylor Sweringen
    · May 27th, 2024 at 7:53 am · Link

    Hardwired. Good word, Jennifer. It makes me wonder what combination of nature and nurture is involved. Thanks for commenting.

  14. Delilah
    · June 8th, 2024 at 7:51 am · Link

    Thanks so much to Anna for another edifying, great post!

    The winner of the GC is…BN!

Comments are closed.