November 27, 2022

Sadie Alexander was a Black American economist, lawyer, and civil rights activist who lived in the 20th century. She did many things for the first time as a Black woman.

How did Sadie Alexander live?

Sadie Tanner Mossler Alexander broke down walls her whole life. She came into the world at the end of the 19th century. She was the first black person in the United States to get a Ph.D. in economics. She was also the second woman of African descent to get a Ph.D., getting hers right after the first one. Alexander was also the first woman of African descent to finish law school at the University of Pennsylvania and be admitted to the Pennsylvania bar. She used her skills to fight for Black Americans’ civil rights and served on President Harry Truman’s Committee on Civil Rights. President Jimmy Carter also asked her to serve on the White House Conference on Aging.

Early Life:

In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Sadie Tanner Mossell was born to Aaron A. Mossell and Mary Tanner Mossell on January 2, 1898.

School Life:

Alexander’s father left the family when she was a baby, so she grew up without him. She lived in both Philadelphia & Washington, D.C., when she was a child. In 1915, Alexander graduated from what was then called M Street High School in Washington, DC, but is now called Dunbar High School.

University of Pennsylvania:

Alexander’s next step was to sign up for the School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania. There, her white classmates made fun of her and told her she couldn’t borrow books from the library. But racism didn’t stop her from getting a high grade and graduating in 1918.

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Family:

Alexander came from a family with a lot going for it. Bishop Benjamin Tucker was a leader in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. He was her grandfather. Henry Ossawa Tanner, one uncle, became a well-known painter. Nathan F. Mossell, another uncle, was the first person to get a degree in medicine from the University of Pennsylvania. He was a surgeon and helped start the hospital that would become Mercy-Douglass.

Economics Ph. D.s and Jobs:

Alexander stayed at the University of Pennsylvania after getting her bachelor’s degree to study economics. In 1919, she got her master’s degree, and in 1921, she got her Ph.D. in economics. Alexander was the first Black American to get a Ph.D. in economics, and the second a black woman will get a doctorate in any subject.

Life Insurance Company:

Alexander couldn’t get a challenging job in economics because of racism and sexism. From 1921 to 1923, she worked for the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company as an assistant actuary.

Education in the Law and Firsts:

Alexander decided to go to law school because he wanted to use the courts and laws to help Black Americans get into places that were closed to them. In 1924, she went to law school at the University of Pennsylvania. By going to this school, she was doing what her father had done. Alexander’s father was the first Black person to graduate from this school.

Marriage:

  • Alexander got married to lawyer Raymond Pace Alexander in 1923, and they had two children. Mary Elizabeth and Rae Pace are their two daughters.

Practice Law in Pennsylvania:

Alexander could join the law review, even though a dean didn’t want her to. She was the earliest Black woman to finish law school in 1927. Next, Alexander became the first Black woman to get a license to practice law in Pennsylvania.

Work on Civil Rights:

Alexander used a lot of her knowledge as a lawyer to fight for civil rights. Alexander fought, along with her husband, for black people in Philadelphia to be able to go to restaurants, hotels, and movie theatres.

Department of Justice Civil Rights:

Alexander was chosen by President Truman to be one of 16 people on the President’s Committee on Civil Rights in 1946. In 1948, a report called “To Secure These Rights” was put out by the committee. Some of the suggestions were to give the executive branch and the FBI more civil rights work. The report also said that the Department of Justice’s civil rights division should be changed. It also said that federal laws were needed to protect civil rights, both from attacks by individuals and from abuses by the government, like police brutality and poll taxes. Even though no federal laws were passed after the report, it set the stage for future action.

Commission on Human Relations:

Alexander started the Commission on Human Relations of the City of Philadelphia with other people in 1951. From 1952 to 1968, she was on the commission.

National Urban League:

Alexander worked with the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans for Democratic Action and the National Urban League to fight for civil rights. Alexander gave Martin Luther King Jr. a copy of the Freedom Bell after he drove a social equality walk from Selma to Montgomery in Alabama in 1965.

Economic Subjugation of the Negroes:

Alexander did not work as an economist, but she still used what she knew about the field. She thought that a full-employment program backed by the government was “the only way to stop the economic subjugation of the Negroes and of the great masses of white labor.” Alexander thought that if everyone had a job, white people wouldn’t be able to treat Black workers unfairly.

Job in the Law:

Alexander was an expert in estate and family law in addition to her work on civil rights. She was the associate city specialist of Philadelphia twice, the first time right after she got her law degree and the second time in the 1930s.

Start of the law firm:

Alexander started the law firm, Alexander & Alexander, with her husband. In 1959, when her husband was made a judge, she started her own practice. In 1976, Atkinson, Myers, and Archie hired her to be their lawyer. In 1982, she gave up work.

Accomplishments:

Alexander was the first national president of a group for Black women called Delta Sigma Theta. From 1943 to 1947, she was the secretary of the National Bar Association. She was the most important woman in the group to get this job.

Woman of the Year:

In 1948, the National Urban League’s comic book Negro Heroes was named Alexander Woman of the Year. In 1979, Alexander was put in charge of the White House Conference on Aging by President Carter.

Death:

Alexander passed away on November 1, 1989, in a spot for more seasoned individuals in Philadelphia. She had pneumonia and Alzheimer’s at the same time. Alexander’s name was given to the group in his honor. The group, which was started by two Black women in 2018, encourages other Black women to go into data-driven fields like economics and statistics.

 

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