Skip to content

4 Things You Didn’t Know About The First Black Woman To Graduate From College

4 Things You Didn’t Know About The First Black Woman To Graduate From College

We just celebrated the 172nd anniversary of her graduation!

Lucy Ann Stanton Day Sessions is largely believed to be the first woman to graduate from college. She was an educator, an abolitionist and a writer. While there has been some dispute over the years, some crediting Mary Jane Patterson as the first woman to graduate and even another woman by the name of Grace Mapps, records show that Stanton graduated 12 years prior to Patterson and 2 years before Mapps, on record as the first ever. 



“In the years since Patterson’s educational triumph, other contenders for the “first” title she commonly holds have been discovered by historians. One of them, Lucy Stanton Day Sessions, is now thought to be the first Black woman to graduate with a degree, but she graduated from a women’s course at Oberlin that did not award a bachelor’s. And Grace A. Mapps, a poet, graduated from a four-year college in New York in 1852, but it is unclear if she was awarded a Bachelor of Arts or some other degree,” TIME reports. 

What is clear is that these women triumphed over the obstacles of the time to become pioneers in education and blueprint scholars for generations of women to come. They set the tone and created a model that others could follow, letting Black women everywhere know that it was possible. Let’s brush up on our history and revisit Stanton’s historic accomplishment. Here are 4 things you didn’t know about the first Black woman to graduate from college, courtesy of


She was born in Cleveland and the daughter of abolitionists.

“Lucy Stanton was born as a freed inhabitant of Cleveland, Ohio on October 16, 1831. Her father, Samuel, was a free-born Black barber who died before Lucy was two years old. Her mother, Margaret, later remarried John Brown, a wealthy Black businessman and abolitionist who was active in the Underground Railroad. The family often harbored runaway slaves in their home. At the time, Black people were not allowed to attend public schools in Cleveland so Brown organized the city’s first school for African-Americans.”


Stanton attended Oberlin College and became the first African-American to have a fictional story published.

“In 1846, Stanton enrolled in Oberlin Collegiate Institute (now Oberlin College), a progressive abolitionist institution. In 1849, she was elected president of the school’s Ladies Literary Society, and her commencement speech was a moving appeal for antislavery. 

Upon graduation [on December 8, 1850], she moved to Columbus, Ohio to become principal of a school, but two years later returned to Cleveland when she married Oberlin classmate William Howard Day, a librarian who edited an abolitionist newspaper, the Alienated American. In 1854, she became the first African-American to have a fictional story published when she wrote a short story on slavery for her husband’s newspaper.”


She taught across the South and worked as a seamstress and abolitionist.

“Two years later, the couple moved to Buxton, Canada to teach fugitive slaves and in 1858, they had a daughter and named her Florence. However, the following year, William Day left on business for England, abandoning his family and requesting a divorce. Lucy returned to Cleveland, finding work as a seamstress to support her daughter but remained active as an abolitionist. In 1866, she was sponsored by the Cleveland Freedman’s Association to teach in Georgia and later Mississippi, where she met and married her second husband, Levi Sessions, in 1878.”


Stanton passed away in Los Angeles.

“The couple moved to Tennessee where Lucy Sessions continued her philanthropic work, including serving as President of the local Women’s Christian Temperance Union. She and her husband later moved to Los Angeles, California.  Lucy Stanton Day Sessions died in Los Angeles in 1910.”

Thank you for paving the way Ms. Stanton. 

4 things you didn’t know about the first Black woman to graduate from college. Photo Courtesy of Oberlin College Archives