Make Black History Personal: #14 Three Generations of Women College Grads

Our family history of attending college was something that was drilled into my brain from my earliest years. What I think made our family unique was that we had three generations of Black women in America who graduated from college. I’m very proud of the history laid out for me by my mother and grandmother that led me to college and law school.

My maternal grandmother, Hazel Edna Weaver attended college at Howard University in Washington, D.C. She started in September of 1913 – 100 years ago last year and was the class of 1917. Back in her day, most women didn’t go to college, no matter what race they were.

I’m not sure why my grandmother set this goal for herself. She wasn’t wealthy and didn’t come from an educated background. In fact, her father didn’t learn to read and write until he was an adult. Despite the odds, though, Grandmother Hazel headed off to college and never looked back.

During the summers she was in college, Grandmother worked as a chambermaid in hotels in the Catskills to raise money for her expenses. The story is that she met our grandfather during one of those summers. He was from Bermuda but came to the States to work in the Catskills during the high season.

Here’s Grandmother Hazel on Howard’s campus –

My grandmother in college around 1914.
My grandmother in college around 1914.

She graduated on June 6, 1917 with a Bachelor’s in Education. Here’s her diploma that we still  have in our family archives –

My grandmother's college diploma from 1917.
My grandmother’s college diploma from 1917.

Then following in Grandmother Hazel’s footsteps came my mother, Alice Vivian Dickinson. Mom also attended Howard University. She used to tell us how she had so little money during college, that she lived on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

In college, my mother studied Spanish. She may be the only person I know who read the entire story of Don Quixote in Spanish. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish Literature in  June, 1941. Later, after her kids were older, Mom would continue her studies at the University of Guadalajara in Mexico and Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, where she received her Masters in Bi-Lingual Education.

Here’s my mother –

My mother and father in 1945, several years after she graduated from college.
My mother and father in 1945, several years after she graduated from college.

And here’s her diploma (in Latin!) –

My mother's college diploma when she graduated in 1941.
My mother’s college diploma when she graduated in 1941.

How can you make Black history personal?

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