Otelia Cromwell was the first Black woman to graduate from Smith College. She is also the first Black woman to earn a Ph.D. from Yale University, and today is the pioneering educator’s birthday.
Cromwell was born April 8, 1874 in Washington, D.C. After briefly attending Howard University and embarking on a teaching career, Cromwell traveled to Northampton, Mass. to enter Smith College and graduating with the class of 1900. She returned to the classroom before earning her master’s degree from Columbia University, and went on to obtain her Ph.D. in English from Yale in 1926.
She went on to teach at Miner Teachers College, eventually becoming head of its Literature department. The college employed Cromwell until her retirement in 1944. In retirement, Cromwell published a book on feminist activist, Quaker, and abolitionist, Lucretia Mott. She is also the aunt of Adelaide M. Cromwell, the first Black instructor at Smith College.
This November, Smith College will celebrate the 30th anniversary of Otelia Cromwell Day.
Cromwell passed on April 25, 1972.