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Lucy Diggs Slowe
She was the first African-American female to win a national championship in any sport, but Lucy Diggs Slowe's lasting legacy came as an educator in the nation's capital.

It would be no stretch to say that Lucy Diggs Slowe was the most influential advocate of change for African-American collegiate females in the first half of the 20th century. Her educational philosophies allowed women not just to succeed in the classroom but also to develop self-determination, respect and the confidence to succeed in a society dominated by white males.

And while she was at it, she also played a little tennis.

Slowe was born on July 4, 1885, in Berryville, Va., to Henry and Fannie Porter Slowe. Losing both parents at a young age, Slowe moved to Lexington, Va., to live with her aunt, Martha Price. The family relocated to Baltimore, Md., where Slowe, then 13 years old, entered the segregated public school system.

Proving to be an excellent student, she graduated second in her class from Baltimore Colored School in 1904 and became the first female graduate of the school to enter Howard University in Washington, D.C. Slowe, who was also the first scholarship recipient from Baltimore Colored School, was a very active member of the undergraduate community at Howard, singing in the university choir, serving as president of the women's tennis team, and serving as a founding member of the first Greek letter sorority for black women, Alpha Kappa Alpha. It was also at Howard that Slowe got a taste for what would be one of her calling cards ? improving the conditions for African-American women in higher education.

Graduating as class valedictorian from Howard in 1908, Slowe accepted a teaching position at Douglass High School in Baltimore. She then made the trek to New York where she attended the Columbia Graduate School of Arts & Science from 1911 to 1915, graduating with an M.A. in October of 1915. She also attended Columbia's Teacher's College, taking classes in Student Personnel.

In addition to the high priority Slowe placed on education, she stayed on top of her tennis game at this time. In 1917 she became the first African-American woman to win a national title in any sport when she claimed the first women's title at the American Tennis Association (ATA) national tournament in Baltimore.

Prior to organization of the ATA, it had been the custom for players from Baltimore, Washington, D.C., New Jersey, Pennsylvania and the New England states to participate in invitational and interstate tournaments. The ATA's formation in 1916 gave African-Americans the opportunity to participate in competitive organized tennis.

Slowe's ATA title came in the middle of a stint teaching at Armstrong Manual Training School, one of three D.C. black high schools, where Slowe also served as dean of girls for one year. She then, at the request of the District's Board of Education, organized and was the principal of the first black junior high school in the Washington area -- Shaw Junior School.

In 1922, Slowe returned to her alma mater, becoming the first dean of women at Howard. Determined to succeed in her new position, Slowe studied the procedures of female deans at other universities and maintained close ties with Columbia's Dr. Romiett Stevens, who developed the first course for female deans in the United States.

Perhaps the most notable of Slowe's early achievements at Howard was the establishment of a women's campus at Howard. Stressing the need for a separated area for female students, Slowe described an area needed by "women students for their physical and social development as well as for the training of their minds." Her efforts led to the building of three new dormitories for females on the Howard campus.

In the early to mid 1920s great changes were taking pace on the campuses of black colleges and Slowe was at the forefront of ensuring the roles of African-American on these campuses. In 1922 she helped organize and served as the first president of the National Association of College Women (NACW), an organization dedicated to raising the standards in colleges for black women, developing women faculty, and securing scholarships.

The appointment of female deans to African-American colleges was also an important mission of the NACW. Through her experiences as the first formally trained dean of women students, she also attempted to convince college presidents that the position was one to be filled by an education professional and not the typical "matron" that had been filling the role.

She was also forward-thinking in terms of equal rights for men and women, telling the 1923 NACW conference, "An important task of the National Association of College Women is that of educational standards to meet those of the very best institutions in our land. If a college accepts women students and employs women faculty, it should give them the same status as it gives male students and teachers, respectively."

By the late 1920s, largely through the efforts of Slowe, there were enough African-American female administrators to hold a meeting, and in 1929 Howard hosted the first meeting of the National Association of Women's Deans and Advisors of Colored Schools (NAWDACS). The forum provided Slowe, who served as the organization's first president, with the opportunity to outline the changes needed for female administrators on college campuses. Her work on behalf of females was so respected at the time that she was invited to address the predominately white National Association of Women Deans in 1931, the first African-American to do so.

Throughout the 1930s, she continued to spearhead progress for African-Americans on college campuses, lobbying for changes in academic standards for students, better health conditions on campuses, as well as an improved workplace atmosphere for female administrators.

Slowe passed away on Oct. 21, 1937, from kidney failure. In a brief 52 years, her tireless efforts to prepare females for life in the "modern world" shaped the lives of countless African-American females and her influence is immeasurable today.

Slowe's remarkable career was recognized as part of the program of the 70th anniversary convention of the National Association of Women Deans, Administrators and Counselors in 1986. A plaque honoring Slowe is displayed in the organization's headquarters in Washington, D.C.

She is still featured prominently in the Washington, D.C. area with the Lucy D. Slowe Hall on Howard's campus and an elementary school bearing her name at 14th Street and Jackson Street, NE.

— Eddy Lentz

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