Honoring the life and legacy of a trailblazing civil rights activist

Sadie T. M. Alexander was the first Black woman to graduate from Penn Law, and made her mark on law, economics, and government.

During Black History Month, The University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School (Penn Law) is paying tribute to the legacy of Sadie T.M. Alexander, the first Black woman to graduate from the Law School, by launching three new full tuition scholarships created in her honor. Last semester, Dean Ted Ruger expressed the intention to create these scholarships thanks to the suggestion of Penn’s Black Law Students Association (BLSA).

Sadie TM Alexander in graduation cap and gown
Sadie T.M. Alexander in academic gown on June 15, 1921. (Image: Penn Archives)

Dr. Sadie T.M. Alexander challenged stereotypes about Black people and women,” says Jocelyn A. K. Walcott, BLSA advocacy chair. “She blazed paths in law, economics, and government. She overcame oppressive structures of racism and sexism, and in doing so, exposed the lies at their foundation. Throughout her life, she defended civil rights and empowered others. Alexander’s legacy is historical proof of Black excellence.”

Alexander embodied cross-disciplinary, groundbreaking academic and professional success in the face of overwhelming obstacles and discrimination. With resilience and determination, she knocked down doors of race and gender that would not willingly open, paving the way for future generations while affecting far-reaching changes in both the public and private sectors across various institutions in academia, economics, and civil rights. Alexander was a leader devoted to civic engagement and the pursuit of excellence in everything she did, with a key focus on advancing racial and economic justice.

At Penn, Alexander made history. She was the first Black woman in the United States to earn a Ph.D. in Economics. A few years later, after working as an actuary for an insurance company, Alexander returned to Penn and became the first Black woman to both graduate from the Law School and gain admission to the Pennsylvania bar.

Read more at Penn Law News.