Alberta Virginia Scott
As the first Black woman to graduate from Radcliffe College, Alberta Virginia Scott created a quietly powerful legacy.
The archives are largely silent when it comes to the life of Alberta Virginia Scott, in part because of the times in which she lived, and in part because she died at the tragically young age of 26. Yet as the first Black woman to graduate from Radcliffe College, she left a quiet but powerful legacy and broke barriers for generations of Black students who followed in her footsteps.
Born in 1875, Scott moved with her family from Virginia to Cambridge, Massachusetts, as a child. After graduating from the Cambridge Latin School, she entered Radcliffe’s Class of 1898. Because Radcliffe did not have dormitories at the time, she lived with a Black family near campus.
Scott was the only Black woman in her class. This fact, coupled with the era’s prevailing negative views about women pursuing higher education in general, would have been daunting. Nevertheless, she excelled. She was well regarded by her classmates and participated in the College’s drama and German clubs. The author of a Boston Globe profile wrote that “she carries herself with unassuming dignity.”
Scott was the first Black woman from Massachusetts and the fourth Black woman from any state to graduate from a college in the Commonwealth. After earning her degree, in 1898, she moved to Indianapolis to teach at an elementary school. Then in 1900, Booker T. Washington offered her a position at his Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, which she accepted, teaching there for a short period from January to May of 1901.
She became an educator because she believed that “it is a duty for those young colored people who are so inclined to take every advantage along educational lines which they can easily obtain in New England, and then go South and teach their colored brethren.” Sadly, Scott soon left Tuskegee due to illness, and she died tragically young on September 2, 1902.
The Cambridge Chronicle wrote that her early death “cuts off what should have been a useful and creditable life of work among those of her race.” The city of Cambridge has since honored Scott with a placard on the fence of her parents’ home at 28 Union Street, where she returned to live during her senior year at Radcliffe. At least two student groups honor Scott’s legacy at Harvard today: The Association of Black Harvard Women is home to the Alberta V. Scott Leadership Academy, a mentorship program for high school students and, in 2018, a group of undergraduate and graduate students created the Greener Scott Scholars Mentorship Program, named in honor of Scott and Richard T. Greener, the first Black graduate of Harvard College.
Sarah L. Burks, Alberta Scott House: 28 Union Street, Cambridge, Mass. 02139 (Cambridge, MA: Cambridge Historical Commission, 2021), https://www.cambridgema.gov/-/media/Files/historicalcommission/pdf/chcmeetingfiles/L134_prelim_report.pdf.
“Alberta V. Scott, 1898.” Kansas City Journal (Missouri), July 3, 1989, Newspapers.com, accessed January 28, 2022, https://www.newspapers.com/clip/8722698/alberta-v-scott-1898/.
Casey Soto and Dara Badon, "Alberta V. Scott – The Radcliffe Institute." Clio, updated July 3, 2021, https://theclio.com/entry/133854.
“About US,” Association of Black Harvard Women (ABHW), accessed January 28, 2022, https://blackharvardwomen.wixsite.com/abhw/about.