Henrietta Bell Wells was the first female member of the debate team at historically black Wiley College in Texas.
She was born Henrietta Pauline Bell on October 11, 1912, on the banks of Buffalo Bayou in Houston, Texas to a West Indian single mother.
While on the debate team at Wiley College, the team beat some of the top historically black colleges including Howard University and Tuskegee University. The team made history when they participated in the first college debate between white and black students in 1930 when they debated against the Law School at the University of Michigan.
Bell married fellow Episcopalian Rev. Wallace L. Wells and went on to be a social worker and teacher in Gary, Indiana; Houston, Texas; Birmingham, Alabama and New Orleans, Louisiana. The character Samantha Booke in the 2007 movie, The Great Debaters, played by Jurnee Smollett, was loosely based on Wells.
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