First African American Woman College GraduateMary Jane Patterson was the first African American woman to earn a bachelor's degree (Oberlin College, 1862). She became a successful teacher and was later appointed as the first black principal at America's first public high school for blacks (Preparatory High School for Colored Youth, Washington, DC, 1871). Patterson spent her career creating new educational opportunities for African Americans after the Civil War.
Childhood and Early Years
Mary Jane Patterson was born on September 12, 1840, in Raleigh, North Carolina, the daughter of Henry Irving Patterson and Emmeline Taylor Patterson. Mary was probably the oldest of at least seven siblings. Her father, a boyhood friend of future U.S. President Andrew Johnson, was a bricklayer and plasterer. About 1852 he either obtained his freedom or escaped from slavery and moved his family out of North Carolina.