Lucy Diggs Slowe

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Lucy Diggs Slowe
Lucy Slowe.jpg
BornJuly 4, 1885[1]
DiedOctober 21, 1937 (aged 52)[1]
Occupationeducator, college dean, and tennis champion, founder of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated;
Partner(s)Mary P. Burrill[2]
Parent(s)Henry Slowe and Fannie Porter[1]

Lucy Diggs Slowe (July 4, 1885 – October 21, 1937) was the first black woman to serve as Dean of Women at any American University and the first Dean of Women at Howard University. She 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.

In 1922, Slowe was appointed the first Dean of Women at Howard University. She continued in that role at Howard for 15 years until her death. In addition, Slowe created and led two professional associations to support college administrators.

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.

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, and graduated 2nd in her class from the Baltimore Colored High 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]

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

Educational career[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 in 1908, 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]

After earning her M.A. 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 European-Americans. The system attracted outstanding teachers, especially for Dunbar High School, the academic high school for African Americans.[9] In 1919, the District of Columbia asked Lucy Slowe to create the first junior high school in its system for blacks and then appointed her principal. She led the school until 1922, creating the first integrated in-service training for junior high school teachers in the District.

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]

In 1922, Howard University selected Lucy Slowe as the first Dean of Women. Slowe was the first African-American female to serve in that position anywhere.[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] Slowe is buried in the Lincoln Memorial Cemetery in Suitland, Maryland.[11]


Window inside of Rankin Chapel at Howard University

In 1942 the United State government built Lucy Slowe Diggs Hall to house African American female government workers.. After World War II, the building was donated to Howard University. Lucy Diggs Slowe Hall opened in 1943.[12] Located at 1919 Third Street, NW, the hall today operates as a co-ed residence.[13] 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.[14]

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

Slowe was honored with a historic marker erected by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources in her hometown of Berryville in 2017.[15]


  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. ^ "Slowe, Lucy Diggs (1885–1937)". 2002. Retrieved March 10, 2018. During the last 15 years of Slowe's life, Mary Burrill , a recognized Washington, D.C., public school teacher and playwright, was her partner and housemate.
  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. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2007-09-27. 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. Archived from the original on 2002-06-29. 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 at Find a Grave
  12. ^ "Lucy Diggs Slowe Residence". Cultural Tourism D.C. Retrieved 2007-11-29.[dead link]
  13. ^ "Lucy Diggs Slowe Hall". Howard University. Archived from the original on 2007-11-20. Retrieved 2007-11-29.
  14. ^ "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.
  15. ^ "Lucy Diggs Slowe Historical Marker". Retrieved 29 January 2018.

Further reading[edit]

  • Carroll L.L. Miller, Anne S. Pruitt-Logan. Faithful to the Task at Hand: The Life of Lucy Diggs Slowe. SUNY Press, 2012.

External links[edit]