Inez Beverly Prosser
DJ Name: Dr. Prosser
Here’s a hot tip for the Virginia teacher hot line: Historic Shuffle should be considered state curriculum because who doesn’t want their kids learning about historical figures not in their textbooks and listening to cool music at the same time?
With an abundance of appreciation for our teachers out here hustlin’ in and out of the classroom everyday, we are featuring an A+ historic lady who valued education both as a student and a teacher. Inez Beverly Prosser was the first Black woman to receive a PhD in psychology. Her dissertation, “The Non-Academic Development of Negro Children in Mixed and Segregated Schools” raised awareness for the mental health of Black youth who were affected by the inequality and isolation experienced in integrated schools due to, you guessed it, racism while segregated schools didn’t offer the level of educational excellence students needed. Her studies were influential in the eventual Brown vs. Board of Education case because it ultimately revealed how integrated schools were important to provide all American children access to that good-good education.
But nobody can just get their PhD without a little help from some songs. So while Inez took a break from the books and cleaned up her classroom, she made sure to dance along to this playlist of her favorite songs which inspired her creative research liberty:
Dr. Inez Beverly Prosser was born on December 30 sometime between 1894 and 1897 somewhere in Texas. While some sources say San Marcos, others report Yoakum. Regardless, Inez was a Texas girlie raised by her father, Samuel, who was a waiter, and her momma, Veola, who was a homemaker. She was the eldest daughter and the second born in the lineup of eleven children. Good grief! Not much is known about her younger years other than reports of her family moving around a lot because they wanted to find better educational opportunities which were few and far between for Black students. Inez said “yo” to Yoakum Colored School and graduated as the valedictorian of her class.
Being one of eleven children probably meant that Inez had to sacrifice a bit and share a lot growing up, but when it came to college she wasn’t going to take “no” for an answer. Her brother Leon was close in age and around the time they graduated high school her parents said that they could only afford to send one kiddo to university. Inez said she wanted to go to college for the rest of her life and Leon said, “hey, man, I don’t think I’d love college, so Inez should go.” Brother of the year award goes to Leon. Inez packed her bags and gathered all of her dorm necessities from the Target summer sale and The Container Store and went off to Prairie View Normal School which today is historically Black college Prairie View A&M University, home of the prairie dogs! Jk, they’re the panthers. Rawr!
Inez received her two-year certificate and another valedictorian title. She left college and took to the classroom first as an elementary school teacher at a segregated school in Austin and then moved on to teach high school English. Ms. Prosser was also student Prosser, though. During this time she re-enrolled in college to accept her rose and pursue her Bachelor’s degree at Samuel Huston College. Inez received her Bachelor of Arts degree in 1926 with a focus in psychology and English. Let’s hear it for our B of A ladies, not that we’re biased! But Prosser’s educational journey didn’t stop there; if anything, it had only just begun. Texas schools were segregated and wouldn’t allow Inez to pursue her master’s degree so she said, “Texas, you’re actually not forever” and enrolled at the University of Colorado.
Inez’s thesis focused on tests (which is a triggering word for those of us who don’t #testwell). Her thesis (better known as “The Comparative Reliability of Objective Tests in English Grammar”) studied the four kinds of grammar exams: true-false, multiple choice (the answer is always “C,” unless you got two C’s in a row in which case maybe this time it’s B), completion and matching questions. After receiving her master’s degree, Ms. Prosser became Professor Prosser and accepted a position as Dean Registrar and Professor of Education at Tillotson College back in the Lone Star state where she focused on a growing passion of hers: the psychological and educational advancement of Black students. She worked there for three years before moving to Tougaloo College in Mississippi and shortly thereafter received a grant to conduct doctoral research and became a candidate for a PhD in Educational Psychology at the University of Cincinnati (rumor has it she’s excited for Joey B and her Bengals to win the Super Bowl).
Her grant for her PhD was only for $1,000 but that covered her first year and boy do we wish that was still the cost of higher education these days! No student loans for our girl Inez! In 1931, she began work on her doctoral dissertation, “Non-academic development of negro children in mixed and segregated schools.” Her goal was to complement a recent dissertation by a woman named Mary Crowley who compared and contrasted Black students’ academic achievement in both segregated and integrated settings. Mary had gone on to serve as assistant superintendent at an Ohio school system, and she helped Inez get permission at different schools in order to conduct her research.
Though the two women researched the same topic, Inez focused on non-academic variables and those different variables made a very big difference. Mary C. said “I see no difference in student performance between schools,” but Inez said “hold up, Mary C., I think you’re missing something” and showed through her own research that Black students actually performed better at segregated schools because Black students in racially mixed academic environments tended to be more shy, struggled with adjusting to this new school life and had worse relationships with their teachers. Of course, she said, ever the wise statistician, there were other variables to account for as well and some students’ personalities did better in certain environments than others.
Inez toog a little trip back to Tougaloo College and wrapped up her dissertation there in 1933. She was one of the very first Black women to receive such a high degree. But the educating and the reading and the writing didn’t stop there – in just a year, Inez published seven articles in the Mississippi Education Journal, churning out helpful academic content about teaching English to youngsters.
Inez encouraged her sibs and other fam to pursue their degrees, too, even paying some of their ways through college. Out of her ten siblings, they all got high school degrees and five got their college degrees, too. “College educated, they graduated,” Wiz Khalifa sang about Inez and her fam.
In 1934, Inez seemed unstoppable. She was her family’s biggest cheerleader, she was showing the world that Black students’ education needed to be taken more seriously and she was excelling at her own teaching and article-writing. But things took a very bad turn when Inez, her husband and her sister were driving back home to visit their family in Texas and got in a head-on car crash. Inez died in the hospital from her injuries at just 38 years old.
Her tombstone at the Southern Memorial Park cemetery in San Antonio reads “How many hopes lie buried here,” reflecting the impact Inez could have had if she had just lived a few more decades. However, Inez’s work remains significant in pointing out the discrepancies in how Black students were treated in integrated schools, the first of many studies that continue today as the issues persist, and her own life serves as a milestone for Black women academics.