Nellie Quander, Incorporator of Alpha Kappa Alpha; teacher; civic activist
February 11, 1880|
September 24, 1961|
Nellie May Quander (February 11, 1880 - September 24, 1961) was an incorporator and the first international president of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated. As president for several years, she helped expand the sorority and further its support of African-American women at colleges and in communities. The sorority established a scholarship endowment in her name. The legacy of the sorority has continued to generate social capital for nearly 100 years.
Quander served as an educator in Washington, DC public schools for 30 years. Early in her career, she earned an M.A. at Columbia University. Later she earned a degree in social work at New York University, plus a diploma at the University of Uppsala, Sweden.
She was a leader in civic and community affairs, where she served on the board of directors at the YWCA and YMCA, as executive secretary at the Miner Community Center, as well as in leadership positions with the Women's Trade Union League and other groups.
Family and early life
Nellie Quander was born in Washington, D.C. to John Pierson Quander and Hannah Bruce Ford Quander. Her family could trace its lineage and sense of purpose for three hundred years in Maryland and Virginia. They are considered to be one of oldest free African-American families whose ancestors had once been enslaved in America. Nellie Quander's relatives included maternal grand-uncle Blanche K. Bruce, a Senator from Mississippi during Reconstruction. Her father was a descendant of Nancy Quander, one of the slaves freed by President of the United States George Washington in his last will and testament. In addition, Nellie's mother was a relative of West Ford, the freed mulatto son of George Washington, (http://www.westfordlegacy.com). From his personal knowledge, West Ford informed the Mount Vernon Ladies Association about the interior of Mount Vernon Plantation's interior for later restoration. The association bought Mount Vernon during the 1850s for preservation.
During her early years, Nellie Quander attended Washington, D.C.'s public schools. She graduated from Miner Normal School with honors. It was established in 1851 as the Normal School for Colored Girls to train teachers.
When Nellie Quander entered Howard University, only 1/3 of 1% of African Americans and 5% of whites attended any college. While enrolled at Howard University, Quander also taught students at the Garrison School in Washington D.C.'s public school system. In June 1912, Nellie graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree, magna cum laude, in history, economics, and political science.
Incorporation of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated
In spring 1910, Quander became a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha at Howard. Two years later, she served the chapter's president. After graduation, Quander was the graduate advisor to Alpha chapter. At the time, Alpha Kappa Alpha existed as one chapter at Howard University with only a ritual and sponsored social events. No plan of nationalizing or incorprorating the organization existed.
To expand the sorority at Howard, new members were initiated. On October 11, 1912, twenty-two members were initiated into Alpha Kappa Alpha. The twenty-two began to be dismayed at the progress of the sorority and wanted to reorganize. According to Giddings, the group wanted to "establish a national organization, enlarge the scope of activities of the sorority, change its name and symbols, and be more politically oriented." When the word was spread to Quander, the graduate member, about changing the sorority name, she was said to be "horrified" at the proposal and gave the women who disagreed with her a deadline to terminate the efforts of reorganizing the sorority. When hearing plans of twenty-two members desiring to cede from Alpha Kappa Alpha in order to form a new sorority, Quander began contacting graduate members order to stop the proposals.
Smith, Quander, Norma Boyd, Julia Evangeline Brooks, Nellie Pratt Russell and Ethel Jones Mowbray moved to incorporate Alpha Kappa Alpha on January 29, 1913. The former members continued their efforts to chart another course and founded Delta Sigma Theta Sorority on January 13, 1913.
After leading the initiative to incorporate the sorority, Quander served as president of Alpha Kappa Alpha. In 1913, at the first Boulé at Howard, she was officially elected president. After having served six years, at the next Boulé in 1919 at Chicago, Illinois, she resigned. During her tenure, she wrote the constitution's preamble and appointed fellow members to implement the sorority's expansion. Later, Quander was the first director of the North Atlantic Region of AKA.
Nellie Quander established the first Alpha Kappa Alpha scholarship for a senior with the highest grade point average in the School of Liberal Arts. The recipient received a ten dollar gold prize.
She also expanded the sorority's undergraduate chapters. Quander assisted fellow founder Beulah Burke to establish Beta chapter in Chicago, Illinois; Gamma Chapter at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; and Delta chapter at the University of Kansas. Quander was the sole founder of Zeta chapter at Wilberforce University. She continued to act as graduate advisor to Alpha chapter, and was a member of the Xi Omega chapter in Washington, D.C.
After graduation, Quander became an educator for the public school system in Washington, D.C., where she served generations of students for 30 years. 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 many outstanding teachers. From 1914 to 1915, Quander studied at Columbia University to earn her Master of Arts degree. Later she pursued additional post-graduate degrees (see below).
From 1916 to 1917, Quander was a special field agent for the Children's Bureau for the Department of Labor. In this position, she observed the social and economic structure of mentally handicapped people in New Castle County, Delaware. The study was sponsored by the local Women's Club to prepare to establish an institution for the mentally handicapped.
In 1936, Quander earned a diploma at Uppsala University in Uppsala, Sweden. She attended the International Conference on Social Work in London, England during the same year. In the public schools, Quander established and supported the School Safety Patrol Unit for twenty-five years.
Quander demonstrated leadership at the YWCA, where she was a board member and chairman of the young women's department. She was a member of the board of directors of the Business Professional and Industrial Committee in the Phillis Wheatley YMCA.
She served as executive secretary of Miner Community Center, which served women and children. She also was secretary of the trustee board of Lincoln Temple Congregational Church, thus among the group that led the operations and financial affairs of the church.
Legacy and honors
In 1984 at Alpha Kappa Alpha's Diamond Jubilee Boulé, Esther Garland Polard, a trustee of Howard University, established a scholarship endowment in Quander's honor. The total amount of the scholarship was $125,000. It is awarded to Howard University junior and senior students.
Nellie Quander devoted her life to education and civic activities. She was close to her surviving sister Susie Russell Quander (member of Zeta Phi Beta - Alpha Chapter), nephews and friends. She died on September 24, 1961.
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- Quander, Rohulamin (2008). Nellie Quander, An Alpha Kappa Alpha Pearl. Washington, D.C.: Quander Historical Society. ISBN 978-0-9817109-0-7.