This week’s open threads have been dedicated to black educators. Today’s thread will highlight Mary Jane Patterson.
Mary Jane Patterson was born September 12, 1840, in Raleigh, North Carolina. She was the first African American woman to receive a B.A degree. She was the oldest of Henry Irving Patterson and Emeline Eliza (Taylor) Patterson’s children. There is conflicting data on how many siblings she had, but most sources cite between seven and ten. Henry Patterson worked as a bricklayer and plasterer who gained his freedom, after Mary was born, in 1852. The Pattersons settled in Oberlin, Ohio, in 1856. Oberlin had a large community of black families, some were freed slaves and some were fugitive slaves. Oberlin was popular because it had a racially integrated Co-ed college. Henry Patterson worked as a master mason, and for many years the family boarded large numbers of Black students in their home.
After graduation Mary Patterson was listed as teaching in Chillocothe, Ohio. September 21, 1864 she applied for a position in Norfolk Virginia at a school for black children. On October 7, 1864 E. H. Fairchild, principal of Oberlin College’s preparatory department from 1853-1869, wrote a recommendation for an “appointment from the American missionary Association as a . . . teacher among freedmen.” In this letter he describer her as “a light quadroon, a graduate of this college, a superior scholar, a good singer, a faithful Christian, and a genteel lady. She had success is teaching and is worthy of the highest . . . you pay to ladies.”
In 1865 Patterson became an assistant to Fanny Jackson Choppin at the Institute for Colored Youth in Philadelphia. In 1869 to 1871, Patterson taught in Washington, D. C., at the Preparatory High School for Colored Youth (later named Dunbar High School.) She served as the school’s first Black principal, from 1871 to 1872. Patterson was demoted and served as assistant principal under Richard Theodore Greener, the first black Harvard University graduate. She was reappointed from 1873 to 1884. During her administration, the school grew from less than 50 to 172 students, the name “Preparatory High School” was dropped, high school commencements were initiated, and a teacher-training department was added to the school. Patterson’s commitment to thoroughness as well as her “forceful” and “vivacious” personality helped her establish the school’s strong intellectual standards. Patterson continued to teach at the High School until her death. While in D.C., Mary Patterson lived with her sisters, Emma and Chanie, and her brother, John at 1532 Fifteenth Street Northwest. In the Late 1880’s Patterson’s parents came to live with them due to financial difficulties. Neither Mary nor her sisters ever married.
Patterson was also a humanitarian and was active in many organizations. She devoted time and money to Black institutions in Washington, D. C. Mary Patterson’s obituary in theEvening Star said she “co-operated heartily in sustaining the Home for the Aged and Infirm Colored People in this city and other Kindred organizations.” Mary Patterson was part of the Colored Woman’s League of Washington D.C., which was committed to the “racial uplift” of colored women. The group focused on kindergarten teaching training, rescue work, and classes for industrial schools and homemaking.
Mary Jane Patterson died at her Washington, D. C. home, September 24, 1894, at the age of fifty-four. Although she is a not well known figure, Mary Jane Patterson was a pioneer in black education and paved the way for other black female educators.
***Information Courtesy of Wikipedia.org***