One of the important figures in late 19th century and early 20th-century activism was Sarah Jane Woodson Early. She supported a number of causes and movements from Black nationalism to temperance. Woodson also held the distinction of being the first Black person to teach at an HBCU and the first Black woman to be a college professor.
Woodson was born free on November 15, 1825, in Chillicothe, Ohio. Her family hails from Virginia but moved to Ohio a few years prior to her birth to escape slavery. The Woodson family is also known for establishing the first Black Methodist church west of the Allegheny Mountains as well as co-founding Berlin Crossroads.
Her political views were formed very early as a result of her brothers and father’s involvement in Black Nationalism. This would lead to her taking a lot of what she learned over the years both in school and the church and focusing it on helping the Black community.
Education and Early Career
The family was extremely education focused meaning that Sarah Jane Woodson pursued an education at Oberlin College. She would graduate from the teachers’ program in 1856 and was one of the very first Black women college graduates.
Two years after her graduation, she was hired by Wilberforce University. This made her the first Black woman to teach at a college in the U.S. and the first Black person to teach at an HBCU. Of note is that her brother Reverend Lewis Woodson was a founder of Oberlin. At the school, Woodson taught both English and Latin. Eventually, she became Lady Principal and Matron.
She also pushed for students entering college to pursue the education and sciences fields to become leaders in the community and to become involved in political and social movements. She would become more active in political and social activism towards the end of her career and life.