Lucy Diggs Slowe

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Lucy Diggs Slowe
Lucy Slowe.jpg
Born July 4, 1885[1]
Berryville, Virginia, U.S.[1]
Died October 21, 1937 (aged 52)[1]
Washington, D.C., U.S.[1]
Occupation founder of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated; educator, college dean, and tennis champion
Parent(s) Henry Slowe and Fannie Porter[1]

Lucy Diggs Slowe (July 4, 1885 – October 21, 1937) was one of the original sixteen founders of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated, the first sorority founded by African-American women. She was one of the nine original founders of the sorority in 1908 at Howard University. Her legacy of Alpha Kappa Alpha has continued to generate social capital for over 100 years. Transcending the era's limits, Lucy Slowe was a woman of many "firsts".

In 1922, Slowe was appointed the first Dean of Women at Howard University. She continued as a college administrator at Howard for 15 years, service ended by her death. In addition, Slowe created and led two professional associations to support college administrators. In her leadership as an educator and college administrator, Slowe created important social capital.

Slowe was also a tennis champion, winning the national title of the American Tennis Association's first tournament in 1917, the first African-American woman to win a major sports title.

Lucy Diggs Slowe demonstrated in her work as an educator, tennis champion, college administrator and civic organizer how African American sororities supported women "to create spheres of influence, authority and power within institutions that traditionally have allowed African Americans and women little formal authority and real power."[2]

Early life[edit]

Lucy Diggs Slowe was born in Berryville, Virginia to Henry Slowe and Fannie Porter Slowe. Her father was a hotel operator. After both her parents died when Lucy was young, she was raised by her aunt Martha Price in Lexington, Virginia. At thirteen, Lucy and her family moved to Baltimore, Maryland, where she attended the Baltimore Colored School.[3][4] She graduated second in her class in 1904.

Slowe was the first person from her school to attend Howard University,[3][4] the top historically black college in the nation, at a time when only 1/3 of 1% of African Americans and 5% of whites of eligible age attended any college.[5]

Howard and Alpha Kappa Alpha[edit]

Lucy Diggs Slowe was one of the nine original founders of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated. The sorority was founded on January 15, 1908. She was instrumental in drafting the sorority's constitution.[1] She also served as the chapter's first president.[6]

Slowe's generation created many organizations to support African American college and community life. Her cousin Elder Watson Diggs was a founder of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Incorporated.

Teaching, Tennis, and Dean of Women[edit]

A current image of Slowe Hall. The building is located on 3rd and T Street on the Howard University campus. The building was designed by Louis Justement.[7]

After graduation, Slowe returned to Baltimore to teach English in high school. During the summers, she started studying at Columbia University in New York, where she earned her Masters of Arts degree in 1915.[6][8]

Slowe continued working as an educator in Baltimore for several years, then she returned to Washington, DC to teach.[6] Because the District was run as part of the Federal government, African American teachers in the public schools were paid on the same scale as whites. The system attracted outstanding teachers, especially for Dunbar High School, the academic high school for African Americans.[9]

In 1917, Slowe won the American Tennis Association's first tournament. She was the first African-American woman to win a major sports title.[10] Two years later, in 1919, the District of Columbia asked Lucy Slowe to create the first junior high school in its system and then appointed her principal. She led the school until 1922.

That year, in 1922, Howard University selected Lucy Slowe as the first College Dean of Women. Slowe was the first African-American female to serve in that position.[8] Slowe continued to serve as a college administrator at Howard for the rest of her career, another 15 years.

To pool resources, share knowledge, and build collaboration, Slowe founded both the National Association of College Women, which she led for several years as first president, and the Association of Advisors to Women in Colored Schools.[3][8] She served as College Dean at Howard University until her death on October 21, 1937.[3]


Window inside of Rankin Chapel at Howard University

After Slowe's death, Howard University named a graduate women's residence hall in her honor. Lucy Diggs Slowe Hall opened in 1943.[11] Located at 1919 Third Street, NW, the hall today operates as a co-ed residence.[12] The District of Columbia honored her by naming Lucy Diggs Slowe Elementary School, in Northeast DC (closed in 2008; re-opened as a charter school renamed for Mary McLeod Bethune), after her.[3] In 1986, the 70th Convention of the National Association of Women Deans, Administrators and Counselors' formally recognized Slowe's contributions. They presented a plaque dedicated to her to hang at their headquarters in Washington, DC.[3]

Lucy Diggs Slowe was one of the women champions featured in the exhibit Breaking The Barriers: The ATA and Black Tennis Pioneers, sponsored by the International Tennis Hall of Fame and Museum from August 25 to September 9, 2007.[13]

On April 14, 2015, the First Street Tunnel project named their Tunnel Boring Machine, "Lucy," in honor of Lucy Diggs Slowe.


  1. ^ a b c d e f McNealey, Earnestine G. (2006). Pearls of Service: The Legacy of America’s First Black Sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha. Chicago: Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated.  p. 43.
  2. ^ Tamara L. Brown, Gregory Parks, Clarenda M. Phillips, African American Fraternities and Sororities: The Legacy and the Vision. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2005. p. 342.
  3. ^ a b c d e f "Lucy Diggs Slowe". Theta Rho Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated. Archived from the original on 2008-01-01. Retrieved 2007-12-04. 
  4. ^ a b Perkins, Linda M. "Lucy Diggs Slowe: Champion of the Self-Determination of African-American Women in Higher Education." The Journal of Negro History, Vol. 81, No. 1/4, Vindicating the Race: Contributions to African-American Intellectual History. (Winter - Autumn, 1996), pp. 89-104.
  5. ^ James D. Anderson, The Education of Blacks in the South, 1860-1935. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 1988, p.245
  6. ^ a b c "Alpha Kappa Alpha Centennial: Founders" (PDF). Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated. April 2007. Retrieved 2007-08-15. 
  7. ^ "About Slowe Hall". Louis Justement, architect. Lucy Diggs Slowe Residence Hall, 3rd and T St. Library of Congress. Retrieved 2007-11-29. 
  8. ^ a b c "The History of Jim Crow". New York Life. Retrieved 2007-12-05. 
  9. ^ Thomas Sowell, The Education of Minority Children Retrieved 12 December 2007
  10. ^ Cahn, Susan K.; Jean J. O'Reilly (2007). Women and Sports in the United States: A Documentary Reader. Boston: Northeastern University Press. ISBN 1-55553-671-9. 
  11. ^ "Lucy Diggs Slowe Residence". Cultural Tourism D.C. Retrieved 2007-11-29. [dead link]
  12. ^ "Lucy Diggs Slowe Hall". Howard University. Retrieved 2007-11-29. 
  13. ^ "International Tennis Hall of Fame to Present Breaking the Barriers Exhibit". United States Tennis Association. 2007-08-25. Archived from the original on 2007-10-20. Retrieved 2007-11-29. 

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