In the nineteenth century the nation’s leading universities were also against co-education, generally excluding women, or when tolerating them at all, preferred to have separate women’s colleges such as Radcliffe at Harvard or Barnard at Columbia. Howard defied this convention. As early as 1872, Mary D. Spackman, a white woman, became Howard’s first female graduate of the medical school. In the same year, a Black woman, Charlotte E. Ray was the University’s first female graduate of the law school, the first woman in the United States, white or Black, to graduate from a regular, non-profit law school. Especially controversial was Howard’s posture that it was neither a white nor a Black institution, but the nation’s only integrated university, disproving by its existence the racist theories that flourished after the defeat of Reconstruction.

     The change in the University’s seal, approved by the Board of Trustees in May, 1910, was made in the midst of a bitter national controversy about Howard’s future. When Wilbur P. Thirkield became President in 1906, the battle between Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois on education and strategies for combatting racism was at its peak. Washington had succeeded in winning philanthropic support for Tuskegee and its program of "industrial education" after adopting a political stance that accepted the loss of Black suffrage, the imposition of legalized segregation and the doctrine of "white supremacy" in the South.

     Washington had popularized the view that higher education was not appropriate for Blacks, that the Black colleges founded after the Civil War had failed, and that trade schools were the most effective and "practical" form of education for Blacks. He was attacked by the "radicals" of the Niagara Movement founded in 1905 by Du Bois, who argued for equal rights and higher education. It is hard to imagine now the depth of hostility between the two camps. It is not surprising that when Booker T. Washington was elected to Howard’s Board of Trustees in 1907 there was a national uproar. The militant editor of the Boston Guardian, William Monroe Trotter, denounced it as a "betrayal of the race." The Niagara Movement and the Equal Rights League declared that Howard was the national symbol of higher education for Blacks, and created a national movement for Howard to "hold the line" against industrial education.


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February 2000