Otelia Cromwell

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Otelia Cromwell
Born Otelia Cromwell
(1874-04-08)April 8, 1874
Washington, D.C.
Died April 25, 1972(1972-04-25)
Occupation Professor

Otelia Cromwell (April 8, 1874 – April 25, 1972) was the first African-American graduate of Smith College, graduating in 1900. She became an educator and professor at Miner Teachers College, serving as head of its literature department. She had earned a master's degree at Columbia University and a doctorate at Yale, becoming the first African American to be granted a degree there.

In 1989, Smith College began to celebrate Otelia Cromwell Day each November, canceling afternoon and evening classes to provide occasions to discuss race and diversity.[1]

Early life, education and early career[edit]

Born on April 8, 1874 in Washington, DC, Cromwell was the daughter of Lucy McGuinn and John Wesley Cromwell, and the eldest of six children.[2] After graduating from the Miner Normal School (also known as the Normal School for Colored Girls), Cromwell taught in Washington, D.C. schools for several years before attending Howard University. In 1898 she transferred to Smith College, and graduated in 1900, the first African American to do so.[3]


Cromwell continued teaching for a few years before resuming her education. She earned a master's degree from Columbia University in New York City, and received her Ph.D in English from Yale University in 1926.[4] In doing so, she was the first African-American woman to receive a Yale degree.[5]

Directly following her time at Yale, Cromwell became an professor of English Language and Literature at Miner Teachers College, later becoming head of the literature department.[6] She taught there until her retirement in 1944.[1] Cromwell edited Readings from Negro Authors, an early anthology of African American literary contributions. She published a biography of Lucretia Mott in 1958, titled Lucretia Mott.[1]

Otelia Cromwell had a brother John. She was the aunt of Adelaide M. Cromwell, a sociologist and historian who was the first African-American instructor at Smith College.[5]


  • In 1950, Smith College awarded Cromwell an honorary doctorate.[7]
  • Cromwell Academy, a private high school in Washington, D.C., was named in honor of Otelia and her brother John by its founder, Ruby Woodson in 1972. It was established to provide college preparatory education to high potential students of all social and economic backgrounds. The academy opened its doors in the educational annex of Peoples Congregational Church. The school closed its doors in 1985.
  • In 1989, Smith College began the tradition of celebrating Otelia Cromwell Day each November. Classes would be cancelled in order to discuss race and diversity.[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "Speaking to Today: New Video Explores Life and Legacy of Otelia Cromwell". Grecourt Gate. October 31, 2014. Retrieved Feb 27, 2016. 
  2. ^ Cromwell, Adelaide (2007). Unveiled Voices, Unvarnished Memories: The Cromwell Family in Slavery and Segregation, 1692–1972. Columbia: University of Missouri. p. 131. 
  3. ^ "Otelia Cromwell Biography and Bibliography". 
  4. ^ "Otelia Cromwell Digital Exhibit". Smith College Libraries. 
  5. ^ a b "Adelaide Cromwell Hill, Instructor of Sociology and Class of 1940". Smith College. 
  6. ^ "District of Columbia, Report of the Board of Education, 1926–1927". 
  7. ^ "Otelia Cromwell: The First African American to Graduate from Smith: Class of 1900". The Black Students Alliance of Smith College. Retrieved February 27, 2016. 

External links[edit]