Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander

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Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander
Sadie Tanner Mossell receiving Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania
Born Sadie Tanner Mossell
January 2, 1898(1898-01-02)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Died November 1, 1989(1989-11-01) (aged 91)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Alma mater University of Pennsylvania
Occupation Lawyer; first national president of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated; Civil Rights activist
Spouse(s) Raymond Pace Alexander
Children Mary Elizabeth Alexander
Rae Pace Alexander
Parent(s) Aaron Albert Mossell II
Mary Louisa Tanner

Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander (January 2, 1898 – November 1, 1989), was the second African-American woman to receive a Ph.D. in the United States, and the first woman to receive a law degree from the University of Pennsylvania Law School. She was the first African-American woman to practice law in Pennsylvania.[1] She was the first national president of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, serving from 1919 to 1923.[2][3] She served on the President's Committee on Civil Rights that was established by Harry Truman in 1946. She was the first African-American woman appointed as Assistant City Solicitor for the City of Philadelphia. She and her husband were both active in civil rights, and in 1952 she was appointed to the city's Commission on Human Relations, serving through 1968.


She was born as Sadie Tanner Mossell on January 2, 1898 in Philadelphia to Aaron Albert Mossell II and Mary Louisa Tanner (1867-?). Her siblings include Aaron Albert Mossell III (1893–1975), who became a pharmacist; and Elizabeth Mossell (1894–1975), who became a Dean of Women at Virginia State College, a historically black college.[4] Her maternal grandfather was Benjamin Tucker Tanner (1835–1923), a bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) and editor of the Christian Recorder.[4] Mossell's father was the first African American to graduate from University of Pennsylvania Law School, and his brother, Nathan Francis Mossell (1856–1946), was the first African American to graduate from the University of Pennsylvania medical school.[4]

During her high school years, Mossell lived in Washington, DC with her uncle, Lewis Baxter Moore, who was dean at Howard University. She attended the academic high school, the M Street School, now known as Dunbar High School, graduating in 1915.[4][5]

Mossell returned to Philadelphia to study at the School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania, graduating in 1918. She pursued graduate work in economics, also at the University of Pennsylvania, earning her master's in 1919. Awarded the Francis Sergeant Pepper fellowship, she was able to continue her studies and in 1921 became the first African-American woman in the United States to earn a Ph.D.[6][7] She was also the first African-American woman admitted to the University of Pennsylvania Law School.[7] In 1927, she was its first African-American woman graduate, and the first to be admitted to the Pennsylvania Bar.[4]

Finding it difficult to get work in Philadelphia, Mossell worked for the black-owned North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company in Durham, North Carolina for two years.

In 1923 after her marriage, Mossell returned to Philadelphia and entered law school. She was admitted to the bar, then she joined her husband's law practice, specializing in estate and family law. They both were active in civil rights law as well. Raymond Alexander was elected to the Philadelphia City Council.

Mossell Alexander worked in her husband's law firm from 1927 until 1959, when he was appointed to the Court of Common Pleas in Philadelphia. She practiced law on her own until 1976. That year she joined the firm of Atkinson, Myers, and Archie as a general counsel. She retired in 1982.

In 1928 she was the first African-American woman appointed as Assistant City Solicitor for the City of Philadelphia, serving to 1930. She was reappointed from 1934 to 1938. From 1943 to 1947 she was the first woman to serve as secretary of the National Bar Association.[7] She was appointed to the Commission on Human Relations of the City of Philadelphia, serving from 1952 to 1968.

She died on November 1, 1989 at Cathedral Village in Andorra, Philadelphia from pneumonia as a complication from Alzheimer's disease.[2][3][1] She was buried in West Laurel Hill Cemetery.

Personal life

Mossell married Raymond Pace Alexander (1897–1974) on November 29, 1923 in her parents' home on Diamond Street in North Philadelphia, with the ceremony performed by her father. Alexander had graduated from Harvard Law School.

They had two children: Mary Elizabeth Alexander (born 1934), who married Melvin Brown; and Rae Pace Alexander (born 1937), who earned a PhD. and married Archie C. Epps III. After divorce, in 1971 she married Thomas Minter, and they had two sons together.[8]

Legacy and honors

  • In 1948, the National Urban League featured Alexander as "Woman of the Year" in its comic book of Negro Heroes.[4]
  • In 1974, Alexander was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Pennsylvania, her first of seven such honors[7]
  • An elementary school in West Philadelphia, the Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander University of Pennsylvania Partnership School ("Penn Alexander"), is named after her. The public school was developed in partnership with the University, which supports the school financially and academically.
  • The Raymond Pace and Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander Professorship at the University of Pennsylvania is named in her honor.[9]


  1. 1.0 1.1 "Lawyer Sadie Alexander, a Black pioneer dies at 91". Associated Press. November 3, 1989. Retrieved 2015-09-10. Sadie Tanner Mosell Alexander, a lawyer and civil rights advocate who achieved many firsts as a black woman, has died of pneumonia at age 91. ...<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Sadie T. M. Alexander, 91, Dies; Lawyer and Civil Rights Advocate". New York Times. November 3, 1989. Retrieved 2014-08-17. On June 15, 1921, she became the second black woman in the United States to receive a Ph.D.; the first, Georgiana Simpson, got the degree a day earlier at the University of Chicago. ...<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 "Sadie T. M. Alexander". Washington Post. November 5, 1989. Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander, 91, who was appointed by President Truman to the Committee on Civil Rights in 1948, and by President Carter as chairman of his White House Conference on Aging in 1981, died Nov. 1 at her home in Philadelphia. She had Alzheimer's disease. Mrs. Alexander, who is believed to be the first black woman to hold a doctorate in economics and to become a lawyer in Pennsylvania, founded a chapter of the Howard University-based black sorority Delta Sigma Theta, and became its first national president. She was active nationally in the ... |access-date= requires |url= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 "Alexander Family Collection". University of Pennsylvania University Archives and Records Center. Retrieved 2010-10-26.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Sowell, Thomas (2002). Lazear, Edward P, ed. The Education of Minority Children. pp. 79–92. ISBN 978-0-8179-2892-6. Retrieved 2010-10-26.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Malveaux, Julianne (1997). "Missed Opportunity: Sadie Teller Mossell Alexander and the Economics Profession". In Thomas D. Boston. A Different Vision: Africa American Economic Thought. 1. Routledge Chapman & Hall. pp. 123–. ISBN 978-0-415-12715-8. Retrieved 4 June 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 "Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander", University of Pennsylvania Almanac, accessed 31 March 2011
  8. Martin, Douglas (May 26, 2009). "Thomas Minter, 84, New York and Federal Education Official, Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved May 27, 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. [1]

Further reading

  • Mack, Kenneth W., (2012). Representing the Race: The Creation of the Civil Rights Lawyer (2012). ISBN 978-0-674-04687-0.
  • Mack, Kenneth W., (2002) “A Social History of Everyday Practice: Sadie T.M. Alexander and the Incorporation of Black Women into the American Legal Profession, 1925-60,” Cornell Law Review, Vol. 87, p. 1405 [2]
  • Sadie Alexander's papers are housed in the University of Pennsylvania Archives and Records Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • Nier, Charles Lewis. (1998) "Sweet are the Uses of Adversity: The Civil rights Activism of Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander," Temple Political and Civil Rights Law Review 8. no.59
  • Obituaries: New York Times and Philadelphia Inquirer, 3 Nov. 1989.

External links