Constance Clayton

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Constance Elaine Clayton
Born1933 (87 years old)
Parent(s)Levi and Willabell (Harris) Clayton
AwardsRockefeller Foundation fellowship

Constance ("Connie") Elaine Clayton, PhD, EdD (maiden; born 1933) is an American educator and civic leader. Notably, from 1982 to 1993, she was the Superintendent of the School District of Philadelphia. Clayton holds distinctions of (i) being the first woman and (ii) the first African American to serve as Superintendent of Schools in Philadelphia. In 1992, the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education established the Constance E. Clayton Professorship, the first professorship to be established in the name of an African American woman at an Ivy League institution, and the second such professorship in the United States.[a] Clayton is known for her "forceful persona"[1] and "no-nonsense" approach[2] and for her advocacy for children.

Early life and education[edit]

Constance Elaine Clayton was born in 1933 in Philadelphia to Levi Clayton (1906–1987) and Willabell Harris (maiden; 1910–2004). Her parents – who married February 19, 1931, in Philadelphia – separated September 1935, when she was two, and legally divorced on April 4, 1952. Constance was raised by her mother, Willabell Clayton, and maternal grandmother Sarah Harris.[3] She has said of her childhood that "I had everything I needed and most of the things I wanted. I really was very fortunate."[4] Her mother took her to art museums, establishing a lifelong love for art.[5] Clayton attended Paul Laurence Dunbar Elementary School and the Philadelphia High School for Girls.[3] She credits lawyer Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander, the wife of civil rights attorney Raymond Pace Alexander, as one of her mentors.[5][6]

She received her B.A. and M.A. at Temple University in 1955, where she specialized in elementary school administration.[3] She earned her Ph.D. from Pennsylvania State University in 1974,[4] and a Doctor of Education degree (EdD) in educational administration from the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education in 1981.[7]

She was the national social action chairman of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority.[8][9]

Teaching career[edit]

From 1955 to 1964 Clayton worked as a fourth grade teacher in the School District of Philadelphia at the William H. Harrison School in North Philadelphia.[1][3] From 1964 to 1969 she designed social studies curricula for elementary grades. From 1969 to 1971 she was the head of a new African and Afro-American Studies program, addressing issues for students of all ages.[7]

During 1971-1972, she became director of the Women's Bureau for the Middle Atlantic States, working for the United States Department of Labor in Washington, D.C. to support women’s employment status and pay equity.[7]

From 1973 to 1983, she was first the director and then the associate superintendent of the Early Childhood Program for the Philadelphia school system.[7] Under her direction, the program was seen as a national model.[10] During this time she also went back to school, earning her Ph.D. in 1974, and her EdD in educational administration from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education in 1981.[11]

Superintendent of Schools[edit]

In 1983, Constance Clayton defeated 83 other candidates to become the superintendent of the School District of Philadelphia.[4][8] She was Philadelphia’s first African American woman superintendent.[8] She served in the position from 1983 to 1993. She also became president-elect of the national Council of Great City Schools.[12] The Philadelphia school system was the sixth largest school system in the United States, employing approximately 24,500 teachers, administrators, and support staff at over 250 locations. Challenges included the extreme poverty of much of the student body and a budget deficit.[13]

Clayton set a number of goals for the city’s schools, including balancing the budget, standardizing the curriculum, and attracting private sector support. At the end of her first 8 years as superintendent, the school system had been largely successful in meeting those goals.[2][12][13][14]

Clayton was a moral voice in support of children in the education system, emphasizing that "Somebody had better step forward and be the advocate for kids."[12] She emphasized the need for federal, state, and city governments to all make a "concrete investment" in education.[3] She recognized the difficulties faced by many children, and promoted programs to address their needs, including the Homeless Student Initiative, America 2000, a broader sexual education program, and acceptance of pregnant students who wish to graduate.[3] "We must educate the kids born into poverty and despair. We must value all kids and not just a select few."[3] "We have enormously talented kids who have a great deal of potential, children who are aspiring."[4] According to Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Claude Lewis, Clayton "made meaningful improvement and provided a measure of hope for students and teachers alike who live with despair."[15] She retired in 1993.[1]

Philadelphia Museum of Art[edit]

Since her retirement, Constance Clayton has continued to be active in the community and to serve on the boards of a number of institutions.[3] These include the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where she serves on the board of trustees. In 2000 she founded the museum's African American Collections Committee. Her work with the museum has led to the creation of the exhibits Treasures of Ancient Nigeria (1982) and Represent: 200 Years of African American Art (2014).[5]

Awards and honors[edit]

  • 17 honorary doctorates[3]
  • Rockefeller Foundation fellowship, c. 1974[7]
  • Gimbel Award[16]
  • Rev. Jesse F. Anderson Memorial Award from Widener University[17]
  • Distinguished Daughters of Pennsylvania Award[7]
  • Humanitarian Service Award from the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations[7]
  • Star Community Commitment to Education Award, 2008, from the Philadelphia Education Fund[7]
  • The General Assembly of Pennsylvania. "House Resolution No. 475 : A Resolution Honoring the educational and professional achievements of Dr. Constance E. Clayton, the first African American and the first woman superintendent of the School District of Philadelphia". Pennsylvania General Assembly.[7]

The Constance E. Clayton Professorship[edit]

The Constance E. Clayton Professorship in Urban Education was established in 1992 at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education. It received support from the William Penn Foundation, Cigna, The Vanguard Group, and PNC Bank.[11] Constance Clayton was the first African American woman to have a professorship named for her at an Ivy League institution.[a] U. Penn also established, in her honor, The Clayton Lecture Series on Urban Education.[18][a]

Political offices
Preceded by
Michael P. Marcase
School District of Philadelphia

Succeeded by
David W. Hornbeck, PhD

Notes and references[edit]


  1. ^ a b c By the end of 1993, ten chairs (including professorships) in the United States had been endowed and named for African Americans: Hannah Diggs Atkins, Constance E. Clayton, Bill and Camille Cosby, W.E.B. Du Bois, Wade H. McCree, Jr., Paul Robeson, Roy Wilkins, and three had been named for Martin Luther King, Jr.. At the time, eight African Americans held those chairs and one African American, John S. Butler, held two at the University of Texas at Austin. The Constance E. Clayton Professorship, established in 1992 at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education, was the second endowed chair or professorship to be named for an African American woman – the first being the Hannah Diggs Atkins Chair at Oklahoma State University. ("African Americans Holding Endowed University Chairs," by Chuck Stone, The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, No. 2, Winter 1993–1994), pps. 127–130, retrieved September 19, 2017, via JSTOR at Nonetheless, the Clayton Professorship was the first in the name of an African American woman at an Ivy League institution.


  1. ^ a b c Mezzacappa, Dale (July 17, 1993). "Clayton Announces Retirement, But Might Stay Through November She Is Likely To Remain As Interim Superintendent After Aug. 31. She's Been In Office For 11 Years". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved 24 March 2015.
  2. ^ a b Irwin, Victoria (May 2, 1984). "A superintendent who is steering Philadelphia schools on new course". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 24 March 2015.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Smith, Jessie Carney (1996). Notable Black American women (1st ed.). Detroit: Gale Research. pp. 94–96. ISBN 978-0810391772. Retrieved 24 March 2015.
  4. ^ a b c d "Clayton, Constance 1937 (?) – ," Contemporary Black Biography, (operated by Cengage Learning), Anne Janette Johnson (born 1959; married to Mark Kram) (ed.); article sources:
    "After 2 Years As School Chief, Clayton Gets Mostly High Marks," by Vernon Loeb, The Philadelphia Inquirer, September 30, 1984, pps. 1-C & 4-C (retrieved September 19, 2017, via at &
    "The Power and Passion of Constance Clayton," by Martha Woodall, Inquirer (the Sunday magazine of The Philadelphia Inquirer), September 13, 1987, pps. 4, 14, 16, 18, 21, 22, 24, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, and 53. (retrieved September 19, 2017, via
    "Hot Words Over Clayton Contract," by Thomas Turcol, The Philadelphia Inquirer, March 8, 1991, pg. 3-B (retrieved September 19, 2017, via at
    "Schools Have Gone Beyond Schooling," by Claude Lewis, The Philadelphia Inquirer, May 1, 1991, pg. 17-A (retrieved September 19, 2017, via at
  5. ^ a b c Holmes, Kristin E. (March 10, 2015). "Constance Clayton still a Philadelphia force - in art". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved 24 March 2015.
  6. ^ Nicholson, Jim (November 3, 1989). "Sadie Alexander, Rights Pioneer". Philadelphia Daily News. Retrieved 24 March 2015.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i The General Assembly of Pennsylvania. "House Resolution No. 475 : A Resolution Honoring the educational and professional achievements of Dr. Constance E. Clayton, the first African American and the first woman superintendent of the School District of Philadelphia". Pennsylvania General Assembly. Retrieved October 24, 2011.
  8. ^ a b c "Black woman elected Philadelphia schools chief". The New York Times. October 10, 1982. Retrieved 24 March 2015.
  9. ^ "Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Epsilon Phi Chapter History". Retrieved 24 March 2015.
  10. ^ Dowdy, June Pickett (2012). A Phenomenological Study of Perceptions of Identity and Leadership Among African-American Female Administrators Within Public Higher Education (PDF). Ph.D. Dissertation, Indiana: ProQuest LLC. ISBN 9781249903123. Archived from the original (PDF) on 3 March 2016. Retrieved 24 March 2015.
  11. ^ a b "Constance E. Clayton Professor In Urban Education: Howard C. Stevenson". University of Pennsylvania Almanac. 61 (5). September 16, 2014.
  12. ^ a b c Marriott, Michel (February 20, 1991). "Iron Hand Reshapes Philadelphia's School System". The New York Times. Retrieved 24 March 2015.
  13. ^ a b Cutler III, William W. (2015). "Public Education: The School District of Philadelphia". Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia.
  14. ^ Schwartz, Robert (1994). "Restructuring Philadelphia's Neighborhood High Schools: A Conversation with Constance Clayton and Michelle Fine". The Journal of Negro Education. 63 (1): 111–125. doi:10.2307/2967334. JSTOR 2967334.
  15. ^ Lewis, Claude (May 1, 1991). "Schools Have Gone Beyond Schooling If You Look At Most Big-city School Systems, You'll Discover They Face The Same Kinds Of Problems We Do In Philadelphia". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved 24 March 2015.
  16. ^ Iams, David (February 6, 1987). "Gimbel Award Phila. Tradition To Continue, Sponsored By Hospital". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved 24 March 2015.
  17. ^ Trent, Sydney (March 31, 1991). "Widener Honors Constance Clayton". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved 24 March 2015.
  18. ^ Slaughter-Defoe, Diana T. (2012). Messages for Educational Leadership: The Constance E. Clayton Lectures 1998 - 2007. New York, NY: Lang. ISBN 978-1-4331-1631-5.