Did You Know the First African-American Woman To Earn a Ph.D. in Economics Was Born n This Day?

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This Day In History: January 2nd

Attorney, scholar and economist Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander was a woman of many first who defended and advocated for the rights of the African-American community. Throughout her six-decade career span, Alexander held roles ranging from an actuary to serving on presidential committees.

Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander was born on January 2, 1898, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She was educated in Philadelphia and Washington, DC before attending the University of Pennsylvania in 1916. 

She completed her undergraduate studies in education and earned her master’s in economics from her alma mater in 1919. After receiving her master’s, Alexander won a fellowship for economics. The fellowship allowed her to pursue a doctoral degree and in 1921 she became which the first African-American woman to earn a Ph.D. in the field. 

Her dissertation was titled, “The Standard of Living Among One Hundred Negro Migrant Families in Philadelphia.” During this time she was also selected to serve as the first national president of Delta Sigma Theta sorority. She returned to her hometown in 1923 and the following year she made history again as the first African-American woman to enroll at the University of Pennsylvania’s law school. 

Alexander graduated in 1927 and began practicing law. Her focus area was estate and family law. She became the first African-American woman to serve as assistant city solicitor of Philadelphia and held the role until 1940. Three years later she was the first woman to hold the position of secretary for the National Bar Association

Her impressive resume led to her being appointed to the Committee on Civil Rights by President Harry S. Truman in 1947. With Charles Edward Wilson as the chairperson and other members such as Robert K. Carr and Franklin D. Roosevelt Jr., the committee was able to establish the foundation of policies and principles for the civil rights movement. The following year, Alexander was named Woman of the Year in “Negro Heroes,” which was published by the National Urban League. 

She was also able to serve as chair of Philadelphia’s Fellowship Commission before opening her own private law practice in 1959. Alexander was even able to work under another presidential administration with her appointment as chairperson of the White House Conference on Aging by President Jimmy Carter in 1978. In this role, she was able to have oversight on social and economic conditions for the country’s seniors.

After working in a variety of positions, Alexander still remained dedicated to practicing law by the end of her career. She retired from the field in 1982 and was named one of Philadelphia’s leading citizens before her death on November 1, 1989.

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