Merze Tate

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Merze Tate
Merze Tate.png
Born (1905-02-06)February 6, 1905
Died June 27, 1996(1996-06-27) (aged 91)
Nationality American
Alma mater Western Michigan Teachers College;
University of Oxford;
Harvard University
Occupation professor

Merze Tate (February 6, 1905 – June 27, 1996) was a professor, scholar and expert on United States diplomacy. She was the first African-American graduate of Western Michigan Teachers College, first African-American woman to attend the University of Oxford, first African-American woman to earn a Ph.D. in government and international relations from Harvard University (then Radcliffe College), as well as one of the first two female members to join the Department of History at Howard University.

Early life[edit]

Tate was born February 6, 1905 in rural Blanchard, Michigan.[1] Her great-grandparents migrated to Michigan from Ohio after receiving land through the Homestead Act. Merze began attending Rolland Township Elementary School Number Five, which was located on land owned by her family. At age 13 she entered Blanchard High School. This high school was destroyed by fire and students had to attend makeshift classrooms in area buildings. Due to inadequate educational facilities, students graduated at the end of the tenth grade. Merze Tate was the youngest and only African-American graduate in her class and was selected valedictorian. This however, was not satisfactory for college entrance, so Merze enrolled in Battle Creek High School where she maintained a straight-A average. Because she was only enrolled in the school for two years she could not be class valedictorian. She did win the Hynman Oratorical Contest which included an award of $50. After graduation Merze applied to Western State Teachers College (now Western Michigan University) and was awarded a tuition scholarship.

Higher education and career[edit]

After completed the teacher's training program at Western Michigan Teacher's College, Tate taught at an elementary school in Cass County. During this time she continued her education by taking correspondence courses and returned to Western Michigan to complete her Bachelor of Arts degree in three years while maintaining the highest grade average of her classmates. In 1927, she became the first African-American to earn a bachelor's degree from the institution. She was also elected to the national social science honor society, Phi Gamma Mu.

Despite her excellent academic career, Tate could not find employment in the state. At that time, Michigan would not hire African-American teachers in its secondary schools. Tate received assistance from administrators at Western Michigan and was able to find a teaching position at Crispus Attucks High School in Indianapolis, Indiana, Indiana.

Whilst teaching, Tate took a part-time master's degree at Columbia. In 1932, she won an Alpha Kappa Alpha scholarship to study at Oxford University where she took a B.Litt. in International Relations in 1935. She matriculated as a Home Student of St. Anne's College, and was the first African-American woman member of Oxford University. Subsequently, she gained a Ph.D. from Harvard.[2]

Later in her life, she was a world traveler and international correspondent for an African-American publication. She always traveled with a military escort which, along with her press pass, gained her entry to many difficult to access locations. She visited the White House annually (including meetings with Eleanor Roosevelt) and attended the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. She never married or had children.


  • "Australia and Self-Determination for New Guinea." The Australian Journal of Politics and History 17 (August 1971): 246-59.
  • "Recent Constitutional Developments in Papua and New Guinea." Pacific Affairs 44 (Fall 1971): 421-27.
  • The United States and the Hawaiian Kingdom: A Political History (New Haven, 1965)
  • The United States and Armaments (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1948)
  • The Disarmament Illusion: The Movement for a Limitation of Armaments to 1907 (New York:MacMillan ad Co., 1942)
  • Hawaii: Reciprocity Or Annexation ( Michigan State University Press, 1968)
  • "Slavery and Racism as Deterrents to the Annexation of Hawaii, 1854-1855," Journal of Negro History 47, no.1 (January 1962): 1-18.

Awards and honors[edit]

  • American Historical Association Award for Scholarly Distinction, 1991
  • Inducted into Michigan Women's Hall of Fame, 1991
  • Distinguished Alumnus Award, American Association of State Colleges and Universities, 1981
  • Graduate Society Award, Harvard and Radcliffe, 1954


  1. ^ Terborg-Penn, Rosalyn (1994). "Tate, Merze (1905–)". Black Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. pp. 1141–1142. ISBN 0-253-32774-1. 
  2. ^ "The Ship 2010/11" (PDF). St. Anne's College. Retrieved November 30, 2016. 


  • Harris, Joseph E. Negro History Bulletin, July-Dec, 1998 by Joseph E. Harris; [1]
  • Visions and Decisions: Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities [2]
  • Cosner, Shaaron and Scanlon, Jennifer; American Women Historians, 1700s-1990s: A Biographical Dictionary

External links[edit]