African-American Women to be Focus of Lecture
Tuesday, May 23, 2000
Special to the News
Copyright 2000. Opelika-Auburn News, Opelika, Alabama. Permission to reprint and post granted by Mr. Graham P. Annett, publisher.
Three Tuskegee University humanities scholars believe that the legacy of African-American women in the historical development of both Tuskegee University and the state of Alabama remains "almost invisible."
They're trying to do something about that historical failure.
Dr. Vivian Carter, a sociology professor, and two English professors, Dr. Caroline Gebhard and Dr. Gwendolyn Jones, will present their findings tomorrow during a lecture at 4 p.m. at the Pebble Hill Humanities Center of Auburn University.
The scholars have received a matching grant from the Alabama Humanities Foundation and are finishing up a series of lectures on the subject.
They say that Booker T. Washington is known the world over as the founder of Tuskegee University. But what about the role his spouses, Fannie Smith, Olivia Davidson and Margaret Murray played?
Smith was a highly regarded instructor in "girls industries," Davidson was "assistant principal" and Murray was active in organizing "self-help" activities in the community, they maintain.
In fact. Davidson may well be studied as a co-founder of the Tuskegee Normal School for Colored Teachers, the scholars say. In addition, she co-wrote the institute curriculum with Washington, and the researchers say some of the early funding support to Tuskegee likely resulted from Davidson's initiative. When Washington left Hampton University to assume the first presidency of Tuskegee University, Davidson remained in the north and involved herself in fund-raising, they say.
While emphasizing the women that Carter calls the "matriarchs' of Tuskegee University, the scholars will also cover the legacy of African-American women in general.
For example, Alice Coachman starred in women's athletics and was the first African-American to win an Olympic Gold Medal when she competed at the 1948 Olympics in London. Her 5-foot, 6 1/4-inch high jump set a new Olympic record.
Mildred Carter, then Mildred Hemmons, is the first African- American woman to earn a pilot's license in Alabama, even before her husband, a Tuskegee Airman.
Carter completed the Tuskegee Institute Civilian pilot Training program in 1941, but female pilots were not permitted to fly in combat when she started her pilot training. Nevertheless, she thought she was on her way to a career in aviation after earning her license, but she was told she was not eligible because of her race.
Adella Hunt Logan, the scholars say, organized one of the largest libraries on women's suffrage, a collection still housed in the TU archives. Logan was the wife of Warren Logan, TU business manager and treasurer, who served as interim president between the death of Washington and the appointment of Robert R. Moton.
Halle Tanner Dillon was the first woman licensed to practice medicine in Alabama, according to archival files at TU. She was the first resident physician at TU, a position she held between 1891 and 1894. A native of Pennsylvania and a graduate of the Women's Medical College in Pennsylvania, Dillon started the school's nursing program.
"All of these women had accomplishments that were unique to their time," Dr. Carter said. "They achieved at a time when African- Americans were not supposed to do so."
Carter said that she and her colleagues want to "alert people to the fact that there is a wealth of information" about the contributions of women in the historical development of TU, with some of the achievements having significance for the state of Alabama.
The Alabama Humanities Foundation grant, and the lectures it has supported, will lead to what Carter says she is confident will be several other historical projects with a focus on women. They plan a photographic story of "The Women of Tuskegee." and they have not ruled out a film on the subject.