Vernie Merze Tate
February 6, 1905
|Died||June 27, 1996 (aged 91)|
|Alma mater||Western Michigan Teachers College|
University of Oxford;
Vernie Merze Tate (February 6, 1905 – June 27, 1996) was a professor, scholar and expert on United States diplomacy. She was the first African-American graduate of Western Michigan Teachers College, first African-American woman to attend the University of Oxford, first African-American woman to earn a Ph.D. in government and international relations from Harvard University (then Radcliffe College), as well as one of the first two female members to join the Department of History at Howard University.
She began attending Rolland Township Elementary School Number Five, which was located on land owned by her family. At age 13 she entered Blanchard High School. This high school was destroyed by fire and students had to attend makeshift classrooms in area buildings. Due to inadequate educational facilities, students graduated at the end of the tenth grade. Merze Tate was the youngest and only African-American graduate in her class and was selected valedictorian.
This, however, was unsatisfactory for college entrance, so she enrolled in Battle Creek High School where she maintained a straight-A average. As she was only enrolled in the school for two years she could not be class valedictorian. She did win the Hynman Oratorical Contest which included an award of $50. After graduation Merze applied to Western State Teachers College (now Western Michigan University) and was awarded a tuition scholarship.
After completed the teacher's training program at Western Michigan Teacher's College, Tate taught at an elementary school in Cass County. During this time she continued her education by taking correspondence courses and returned to Western Michigan to complete her Bachelor of Arts degree in three years while maintaining the highest grade average of her classmates. In 1927, she became the first African-American to earn a bachelor's degree from the institution. She was also elected to the national social science honor society, Phi Gamma Mu.
Despite her excellent academic career, Tate could not find employment in the state. At that time, Michigan would not hire African American teachers in its secondary schools. Tate received assistance from administrators at Western Michigan and was able to find a teaching position at Crispus Attucks High School in Indianapolis, Indiana. Whilst teaching, Tate took a part-time master's degree at Columbia. In 1932, she won an Alpha Kappa Alpha scholarship to study at Oxford University where she took a B.Litt. in International Relations in 1935. She matriculated as a Home Student of St Anne's College, and was the first African-American woman member of Oxford University. Subsequently, she gained a Ph.D. from Harvard University.
In 1936, she became the history and social science department chairman at Bennett College for women, also in North Carolina, where she taught four years. She also spent a year at what is now Morgan State University, where she taught political science and was dean of women, before joining the faculty of Howard University.
Later in her life, she was a world traveler and international correspondent for an African-American publication. She visited the White House annually (including meetings with Eleanor Roosevelt) and attended the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. She never married or had children.