Enolia Pettigen McMillan was a pioneer educator, civil rights activist, and community leader. She also served as the first African American female national president of the NAACP.
Born Enolia Virginia Pettigen in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania, the daughter of Elizabeth Fortune Pettigen and John Pettigen, a former slave.
While still in her youth, the family moved to Maryland in search of improved educational opportunities. McMillan attended Frederick Douglass High School in Baltimore, Maryland and later Howard University in Washington, D.C. with the help of a scholarship from Alpha Kappa Alpha and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in education in 1926.
After completing her studies, she found employment in 1927 in Caroline County, MD teaching at Denton HIgh School. By 1928, she was principal in Charles County. She later received a master’s degree in 1933 from Columbia University. During her masters education, she began to question the Maryland public education system and used the topic for her master’s thesis entitled “Some Factors Affecting Secondary Education for Negroes in Maryland Counties (not including Baltimore).
After a lifetime of dedication to teaching, McMilliam retired in 1968. In 1969, she defeated Juanita Mitchell, becoming president of the Baltimore Branch of the NAACP.
In 1984, McMilliam was the first elected woman national president of the NAACP and held the position until 1990. McMillan died October 24, 2006, in Stevenson, Maryland from heart failure just four days after celebrating her 102nd birthday.