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African Americans at Penn:
Biographies and Personal Papers

The following list identifies some of Penn's most notable African Americans along with their life dates, Penn degrees and connections, and major areas of achievement. Links are provided to their biographies or personal papers as they are found on the University Archives web site.


Abele, Julian Francis (1881-1950), B.A. in Arch. 1902
First African American to graduate from Penn's Graduate School of Fine Arts

Adger, William (1856-1885), B.A. 1883
First African American to graduate from the College

Alexander, Raymond Pace (1897-1974), B.S. in Econ. 1920
Civil rights lawyer and Philadelphia city councilman

Alexander, Sadie Tanner Mossell (1898-1989), B.S. 1918, A.M. 1919, Ph.D. 1921, LL.B. 1927
First African American to receive a Ph.D. in Economics in the United States, first African American woman to earn a Penn law degree and to become a member of the Pennsylvania bar

Alexander, Virginia Margaret (1900 -1949), B.S. in Ed. 1920
Medical doctor in Philadelphia

Anderson, Elizabeth Mossell (1894 - 1975), B.S. in Ed. 1939
Dean of Women at Wilberforce University

Asbury, Ida Elizabeth (Bowser) (1869-1955), Cert. of Proficiency in Music, 1890
First African American women to earn a Penn degree

Brister, James (1858-1916), D.D.S. 1881
First African American to receive a Penn degree of any kind

Cummings, William Nelson (1894-1991), D.D. 1919
First African American to become captain of a Penn varsity team (track)

Dickens, Helen Octavia (1909-2001), Sc.D. (hon.) 1982
First African American woman on the medical staff of Penn's Medical School

Du Bois, W. E. B. (1868-1963)
Assistant in Sociology in the Wharton School, author and founder of the N.A.A.C.P.

Engs, Robert (born 1943)
Member of Penn's history faculty since 1972

Fontaine, William Thomas Valeria (1909-1968), Ph. D. 1936
Penn's first fully-affiliated and first tenured African American faculty member

Johnson, Francis (1792-1844)
First African American bandleader and composer to play at Penn events, including commencements

Moore, Lewis Baxter (1866-1928), Ph.D. 1896
First African American to earn a Penn Ph.D., Dean of Howard University

Mossell, Aaron Albert (1863-1951), L.L.B. 1888
First African American to graduate from Penn's Law School

Mossell, Nathan Francis (1856-1946), M.D. 1882
First African American to graduate from Penn's Medical School

Taylor, John Baxter (1882-1908), V.M.D. 1908
Second African American athlete at Penn, first African American to win an Olympic gold medal (track)

Tucker, Miles (1856-1904), Ph.B. 1887
First African American graduate of the Wharton School

White, Samuel (c. 1845-1904)
Athletic trainer for Penn's early sports teams

Wilson, Albert Monroe (1841-1904)
Janitor, messenger, lab assistant, friend to Penn students and faculty for a half century, and community medic

Woodard, Dudley Weldon (1881-1965), Ph.D. 1928
First African American at Penn (and second in the nation) to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics, professor and Dean of Students at Howard University





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