Mary Jane Patterson had all the features that would prevent her from earning a degree at her time, she was female and African-American.
Mary Jane Patterson was a daughter of an enslaved master mason. We don’t know if he escaped from slavery or was freed by his master but, in the end, Patterson family settled in Oberlin, Ohio. Being an abolitionist town with a huge Black population, Oberlin was popular with African-Americans of that time. Besides that, it was home to Oberlin College, which had admitted African-American students since 1835. Many of them graduated this school but without a degree. It also admitted women offering them a shortened two years course.
Mary Jane Patterson is so iconic! From being the first known black woman to graduate with a bachelors degree to being the first black woman… pic.twitter.com/ENDhO0Y9aD
— Black Women United (@BWUSac) May 24, 2017
Patterson firmly decided to change all of that. Not only did she take the “male” course but graduated in 1862, it was with high honors becoming the first female Black bachelor.
After that Mary Jane Patterson became an excellent teacher, her recommendations characterize her as “a superior scholar, a good singer, a faithful Christian, and a genteel lady.” She taught in Ohio and then moved to Philadelphia in the Institute of Colored Youth and in a preparatory high school for African-American youth in Washington, D.C.
1862 5/21 #MaryJanePatterson becomes the first African American woman to earn an B.A degree at #OberlinCollege in Ohio. pic.twitter.com/XM9zLZgWWQ
— Charles Roberts (@mrcharleyr) May 21, 2017
But Patterson’s achievements didn’t end there. She also became her school’s first black principal. Her Oberlin fellow student recalled, “She was a woman with a strong, forceful personality, and showed tremendous power for good in establishing high intellectual standards in the public schools.”