struggle of the African-American in the 19th
century to be allowed the same privileges of
any other citizen of the United States is a
long and well known one. This struggle occurred
in the field of education as it did in every
other sphere of life.
- Mt. Holyoke College bears the honorable distinction
of being the first among the Seven Sisters
Holyoke,Vassar, Wellesley, Smith, Radcliffe,
Bryn Mawr and Barnard) to have an African-American
graduate. (Click here
for list of the 1st African-American
graduate from each of the Seven Sisters). In
1883, the college conducted its first tabulation
of students by race (2).
In the graduating class of that year was Hortense
Parker, an African-American who was therefore
given the distinction of being the first known
African-American to graduate from the seminary.
among Women - Hortense Parker
was the daughter of John Parker, an active abolitionist
and former slave who bought his freedom in 1845.
In 1848 he married Miranda Boulden and they
subsequently had six children, two of whom attended
the preparatory school at Oberlin. Hortense,
the eldest daughter, attended Mt. Holyoke Seminary.
All three of the Parker daughters, Hortense,
Bianca and Portia, studied music. Hortense spent
her first year of tertiary education attending
a college in Ohio. She was, however, unhappy
there and her mother suggested that she attend
Mt. Holyoke Seminary instead. She started at
the Seminary in 1878 and was one of seventeen
girls who entered that year. She was unable
to attend school each year consecutively, spent
a total of 2 years at Mt. Holyoke, and graduated
in 1883. The exact year of her birth is not
known but she died on December 9th, 1938 as
a result of tripping in her home.
Life at Mt. Holyoke (3)
- Hortense lived in campus housing during
her stay at Mt. Holyoke, residing in the Seminary
building with the other 250 students here
at that time. Unlike a great number of schools
at that time, Mt. Holyoke did not require
its black students to live off campus. The
original seminary building accommodations
were also much too crowded for blacks to be
given their own room as they were in the new
dorms after the 1896 fire.
- Hortense was remember by her classmates
as "a quiet, ladylike girl, noted especially
for her musical ability." She was frequently
asked to favor the faculty and students by
playing the piano in the Seminary. One friend
wrote: "In all these years I have never
heard 'Home, Sweet Home' played with such
beauty and pathos as Hortense played it."
She hoped to study music in Europe upon her
graduation from Mt. Holyoke but unfortunately,
her patron died during her senior year. She
married soon after graduation and taught music
at several schools in Missouri, New York and