ABWW Heroine of the Day: Sadie T. M. Alexander

Sadie Tanner Mosell Alexander was a lawyer and civil rights advocate for 50 years who achieved a number of academic and professional firsts as a black woman. On June 15, 1921, she became the second black woman in the United States to receive a Ph.D.; the first, Georgiana Simpson, got the degree a day earlier at the University of Chicago. Mrs. Alexander was also the first black woman in the nation to get a Ph.D. in economics and the first to receive a doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania.

In 1927, she became the first black woman to graduate from the University of Pennsylvania’s Law School; her father had been the first black man to graduate from the school. And she became the first black woman to pass the Pennsylvania bar. In 1928 Mossell Alexander was the first African-American woman appointed as Assistant City Solicitor for the City of Philadelphia, serving to 1930; she was reappointed from 1934 to 1938. She was also active in numerous professional and civic organizations. From 1943-1947 she was the first woman to serve as secretary of the National Bar Association.

Before receiving her doctorate in economics, Mrs. Alexander had been the first national president of the black women’s sorority, Delta Sigma Theta.Mrs. Alexander practiced law with her husband, Raymond Pace Alexander, a Harvard Law School graduate, until he became a judge in the Court of Common Pleas in Philadelphia. In the 1940’s, she was assistant city solicitor in Philadelphia. Two decades later she headed the city’s Commission on Human Rights. Mossell Alexander worked in her husband’s law firm from 1927 until 1959, when he was appointed to the Court of Common Pleas in Philadelphia. She practiced law on her own until 1976, when she joined the firm of Atkinson, Myers, and Archie as a general counsel. She retired in 1982. She passed away in 1989.
An elementary school in West Philadelphia, the Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander University of Pennsylvania Partnership School (“Penn Alexander”), is named after her. The public school was developed in partnership with the University, which supports the school financially and academically. The Raymond Pace and Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander Professorship at the University of Pennsylvania is named in her honor.

Read About More Black Female Trailblazers in American Law .

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