Mary Jane Patterson
Mary Jane Patterson was born Sept. 12, 1840, in Raleigh, North Carolina, with her family eventually settling in Oberlin, Ohio. When Patterson arrived at Oberlin College, she studied one year in the Preparatory Department and four years in the college before graduating with an A.B. degree, according to the History of Oberlin College. She was the first African-American woman to receive a college degree. After graduating, she went to Philadelphia to teach at the Institute for Colored Youths for several years and eventually became a principal in Washington, D.C.
Evelyn Boyd Granville
Evelyn Boyd Granville was born to William and Julia Boyd Walker in Washington, D.C., on May 1, 1924. At a young age, her father left the family and her mother and her mother’s twin sister, Louise, raised Granville. She was well-educated, attending the segregated Dunbar High School from which she graduated as class valedictorian. She found herself inspired by her high school teachers, many of whom graduated from Ivy League institutions such as Yale University and the University of Pennsylvania. She went on to attend Smith College for undergraduate and Yale University for her graduate studies, receiving an M.A. and a Ph.D. in mathematics, making her one of the first African-American women to receive that degree.
Charles Hamilton Houston
Charles Hamilton Houston was born in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 3, 1895, to a lawyer father and a stay-at-home mother. Houston attended Amherst College in 1911 and graduated as the valedictorian in 1915. He fought in World War I as a U.S. Army officer and was sent to France. When he returned, he attended Harvard Law School and was a member of the Harvard Law Review. He graduated cum laude and went on to work with the NAACP, playing a role in every civil rights case before the Supreme Court from 1930 and 1954 (Brown vs. Board of Education).
Thomas L. Jennings
Thomas L. Jennings was born to a free Black family in New York City. As a child, he became a skilled tailor, building a tailor and dry-cleaning business. He married a woman born into slavery and they had three children. Jennings was also part of the abolitionist movement and was active in working to secure civil rights for Blacks. Jennings was the first Black to gain a patent after considerable controversy and disagreement. The U.S. patent law of 1793 stated that “the master is the owner of the fruits of the labor of the slave both manual and intellectual” so slaves could not patent their own inventions. Due to Jennings status as a free man, he gained exclusive rights to his intellectual property and was the first Black man to be awarded a patent. He was awarded a patent on March 3, 1821, for a process called dry-scouring, the predecessor to modern-day dry-cleaning.