Our children are inundated with negative images from the past and present. This is
particularly true of young African American girls. Why not give information about
positive role models like Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander? I know that is not your
-- Grandville Moyers, DeKalb, Illinois
A native Philadelphian and life-long champion of civil rights and equal opportunity
for all, regardless of race or gender, Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander was a leader
in the legal, political and civic arenas of her day. Among her many "firsts" was her
place as the first African-American woman to enroll in the School of Law at the University
of Pennsylvania and earn the Julis doctor degree. She was also a wife and mother and
an unlikely comic book hero.
Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander
- 1898 -- Born Jan. 2 in Philadelphia to Aaron Albert and Mary Louise Tanner Mossell.
- 1916 -- Graduated from M Street High School in Washington, D.C., and entered the University
- 1918 -- Completed her undergraduate program at Penn and was awarded a Bachelor of Science
degree in education with senior honors.
- 1919 -- Earned a Master of Arts degree in economics at Penn and was awarded the Francis Sergeant
Pepper Fellowship in economics, which enabled her to study for her doctorate.
- 1921 -- Became the first African-American woman in the nation to earn a Ph.D. in economics.
Her dissertation was "The Standard of Living among One Hundred Negro Migrant Families
- 1921 -- Was elected the first president of the Grand Chapter, the national organization of
the African-American sorority, Delta Sigma Theta.
- 1921-23 -- Worked as assistant actuary at the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company in
- 1923 -- Returned to Philadelphia where she married Raymond Pace Alexander, the brother of
her good friend and sorority sister from undergraduate school, Virginia Alexander.
- 1924 -- Became the first African-American woman to enroll in Penn's School of Law, where
her father Aaron Albert Mossell had been the first African-American to graduate. She
was also the first African-American woman to serve as associate editor of the Law
- 1927 -- Became the first African-American woman to earn a law degree at Penn, pass the bar
and practice law in Pennsylvania. Joined her husband's Center City Philadelphia law
firm, specializing in estate and family law.
- 1927-31 -- Became the first African-American woman to serve as assistant city solicitor of Philadelphia.
- 1936-40 -- Served her second term as assistant city solicitor of Philadelphia.
- 1943-47 -- Became the first woman to serve as secretary of the National Bar Association.
- 1946-65 -- Served as a member of the Philadelphia Fellowship Commission.
- 1947 -- Appointed to the President's Committee on Civil Rights by President Harry S. Truman.
The committee's report, "To Secure These Rights," served as the foundation of the
civil-rights movement in America and was the basis for future civil-rights policy
decisions and legislation.
- 1948 -- Named Woman of the Year in "Negro Heroes," a comic book published by the National
Urban League in conjunction with the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority.
- 1949 -- Chaired a special committee of the Fellowship Commission set up to ensure that a
new city charter would include provisions guaranteeing equal treatment and equal opportunity
in the city's administration.
- 1952 -- As chair of the Fellowship Commission committee, drafted a section of the Home Rule
Charter of 1952, calling for the formation of a Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations.
- 1959 -- Opened her own private law practice after her husband was appointed judge in the
Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, the first African-American to serve in this position.
A quarter of her practice was dedicated to civil and probate work, while the rest
of the time she focused on domestic relations, divorce, adoption and juvenile care.
- 1974 -- Was awarded her fifth degree at the University of Pennsylvania, an honorary doctor
of laws degree. This was the first of seven such honors by colleges and universities
around the country.
- 1976 -- Retired from the active practice of law but joined the firm of Atkinson, Myers and
Archie of counsel.
- 1978 -- Was appointed chairperson of the White House Conference on Aging by President Jimmy
Carter and charged with addressing a range of social and economic needs of the elderly.
- 1989 -- Died Nov. 1 at age 91 after having been recognized, in her last decade, as one of
Philadelphia's leading citizens.
April 2007 response from Almanac, University of Pennsylvania