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Ph.D. in Psychology: Inez Beverly Prosser

Updated: Jan 21

Hello everyone! I'm Tina and this is Women Weekly, where I post about one wonderful woman in the STEM field every Friday. This week, I wrote about the first African-American woman to earn a Ph.D. in Psychology – Inez Beverly Prosser.

 

Inez Beverly Prosser was born in 1895 in San Marcos, Texas, but neither the year nor the place of her birth is clear. She was the second of eleven siblings, after her older brother Leon. Their parents cared about their children's education, moving to Yaokum when it was time for them to start attending school. In 1910, Inez graduated as a valedictorian from Yoakum Colored School and expressed great interest in furthering her education. Inez's family could only afford to send one of their children to college and planned for it to be Leon, but since he wasn't as eager to study as Inez was, they decided to support her instead.

After graduating with a degree in teacher training from Prairie View Normal College, she spent time teaching at different segregated schools. Her job as an English teacher at Anderson High School was long-term and during that time, she met and married her husband Allen Rufus Prosser. Inez gained a Baccalaureate degree from Samuel Houston College and a Master's degree in Educational Psychology from the University of Colorado with a thesis focusing on different types of English grammar tests.

Inez left Anderson High School for Tillotson College. Working as a dean, registrar, and professor of education, she largely contributed to the educational and psychological development of Black students. After nine years there, Inez left Tillotson for Tougaloo College, Mississippi, again occupying both teaching and administrative positions while also becoming the principal at Tougaloo High School.

With the aid of the General Education Board, Inez got to spend the 1931-1932 academic school year in residence at the University of Cincinnati, Ohio, coming back to Tougaloo College for the next year while still working on her dissertation. In 1933, Inez's dissertation got accepted, making her the first African-American woman to earn a Ph.D. in Psychology, Educational Psychology specifically.

For her dissertation, The Non-Academic Development of Negro Children in Mixed and Segregated Schools, Inez worked with 32 pairs of Black students from integrated and segregated middle schools to determine which type of school has a better effect on their psychological development. She believed that the racism Black students faced at integrated schools caused irreversible damage to their personalities. Inez acknowledged the distinction between detrimental mandatory segregation and voluntary segregation, stating that the latter can benefit Black students because the school caters specifically to them. From her study, she concluded that segregated schools provide a safer, more welcoming environment for Black students, which tends to result in greater confidence and better relationships. This dissertation was later important in the Brown v. Board of Education U.S. Supreme Court ruling of 1954.

Inez Beverly Prosser spent her life teaching and helping Black students to reach their potential. Being a Black woman herself, thus having to overcome many obstacles, she managed to hold many powerful academic positions, earn a doctorate, and pay for the education of five of her siblings. Inez sadly died in 1934 in a car accident, only a year after earning said doctorate.



 

Sources:


Information:

https://awis.org/historical-women/dr-inez-beverly-prosser/

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