Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander was the first Black woman to earn a Ph.D in the United States. She was also the first woman to earn a law degree from the University of Pennsylvania law school, while holding a M.A. in Economics from Penn as well.
Ms. Mosell Alexander was born in Philadelphia January 2, 1898. Her father, Aaron Albert Mossell, was the first Black person to graduate from the University of Pennsylvania law school.
Her uncle, Nathan Francis Mossell, was the first Black person to graduate from the university’s medical school.
Another uncle is renowned artist Henry Ossawa Tanner. She also served as the first president of Delta Sigma Theta sorority, Inc.
She couldn’t find work in her hometown because whites wouldn’t hire her, so Mosell Alexander worked for a short while at the Black-owned North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance company. In 1923, she married Raymond Alexander and joined her husband’s law firm.
She later became the first Black woman to be admitted to the Philadelphia bar. The Alexanders worked together for 32 years, had two daughters and were active participants in the Civil Rights Movement.
Mosell Alexander’s served on President Harry Truman’s Committee on Human Rights in 1947. She joined Philadelphia’s Commission on Human Relations in 1952 while still practicing law.
When her husband became a judge, she maintained her own law practice before retiring from public life in 1982.
Ms. Mosell Alexander died at age 91 on November 1, 1989.
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