Josephine Silone Yates was a pioneer teacher. Yates was born in Mattituck, Southold, Suffolk County on Long Island, New York, on November 17, 1859; the second daughter of Alexander and Parthenia Reeve Silone. Josephine showed an early aptitude for science and studied physiology, physics, and mathematics while still in grammar school. When she was eleven, her mother’s brother, Rev. John Bunyan Reeve, sent for her to come to Philadelphia to attend the highly regarded Institute for Colored Youth, headed by Fanny Jackson (Coppin).
After studying at the Institute, she returned to her family in Long Island because her uncle was offered the dean position of the Theological Department at Howard University in Washington D.C.
In 1874, she entered Rogers High School in Newport, where she was the only African American pupil in her class. While in high school, she demonstrated an interest in chemistry, and when she graduated as valedictorian in 1877, she became the first African American graduate of the school and had completed the four-year program in only three years.
She later attended the Rhode Island State Normal School in Providence where she was the only black student in her class She took the teacher certification examination and received the highest grade.
After teaching in public schools for a few years, she was hired in 1881 as a “female assistant” with a yearly salary of $500 on the faculty of Lincoln Institute, a college established for African American students in Jefferson, Missouri. Silone resigned her position at Lincoln Institute in 1889, when she married Professor William Ward Yates, principal of the Phillips School in Kansas City, Missouri.
Yates helped to found the Women’s League of Kansas City, an organization for the self-help and social betterment for African-American women, and became its first president in 1893. In 1896 the Women’s League joined the National Association of Colored Women (NACW), a federation of similar clubs from around the country. Yates served with the NACW for four years as the treasurer or vice-president (1897 to 1901) and for four years as president (1901 to 1904). Yates passed away in Kansas City, Missouri on September 3, 1912, at the age of 52.