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Mon, 12.30.1895

Inez Beverly Prosser, Educator, and Psychologist born

Inez B. Prosser

*Inez Beverly Prosser was born on this date in 1895. She was a Black teacher and school administrator and one of the first Black women to receive a Ph.D. in psychology in America.

She was born to Samuel Andrew and Veola Hamilton Beverly in Yoakum or San Marcos, Texas, a small town between Austin and San Antonio. The family was believed to not move to Yoakum until 1900. Her mother was a homemaker, and her father was a waiter. Prosser was the eldest daughter and the second of eleven children. There were few educational opportunities for Blacks during her youth, and her family moved many times to seek the best education they could find for their children. In 1907, Beverly and her family left Yoakum for Corpus Christi, Texas, but Corpus Christi did not have a Black high school.

She and her brother went back to Yoakum, staying with a family relative until graduating from Yoakum Colored School in 1910, where Beverly was valedictorian. She almost did not get her family's support to go to college. To contribute to the household, she started a college fund to support her younger siblings' education. Of the eleven children, all graduated from high school, and six earned college degrees. Beverly received a degree in teacher training from Prairie View Normal College (now Prairie View A&M University), where she was also valedictorian.

She returned to Yoakum and taught for a short time at their segregated schools. Then, Prosser became an assistant principal at Clayton Industrial School in Manor, Texas, before accepting a more long-term position at Anderson High School. Throughout her time at Anderson, she taught English. She coached for the spelling competitions of the Interscholastic League, an organization that sponsored events for Black high school students in athletic and academic contests throughout the state. During this period, Prosser met and married Allen Rufus Prosser, who worked as an elevator operator at a department store in Austin, and the two were married in 1916.

While working at Anderson in 1921, Prosser also began to work towards her bachelor's degree at Samuel Huston College. She completed her Bachelor of Arts degree in 1926, minoring in English and psychology and graduating with distinction. Prosser received several awards and embraced the opportunity to continue her education. She received a master's degree in educational psychology from the University of Colorado. Prosser began this work in the summer of 1924, taking four undergraduate courses (two in English, one in abnormal psychology, and a physical education class) to make up for what Colorado thought she lacked in her record at Samuel Huston College. At Colorado, Prosser took several courses particularly relevant to her master's thesis, whose subject areas included mental tests, tests and measurement, and research methods.

Her thesis, "The Comparative Reliability of Objective Tests in English Grammar," examined four kinds of English grammar tests (using the standards proposed by the National Education Association). Her four test types included true-false, multiple-choice, completion, and matching questions. All tests covered the same subject areas and difficulty levels and comparable numbers of factual and reasoning questions. This unpublished thesis did not change the course of grammar assessment, but it motivated Prosser to further her education and appeared to ignite her interest in psychology. Upon receiving her master's degree, Prosser left Anderson High School in 1927 to accept a faculty member at Tillotson College.

At Tillotson, she not only displayed her teaching and leadership skills but truly dedicated herself to the educational and psychological development of Black students. She was allowed to organize a series of lectures from 1929 to 1930, which even featured a lecture by George Washington Carver. Overall, Prosser was at Tillotson College from 1921 to 1930, serving as "Dean, Registrar, and Professor of Education. Aside from the president, Prosser was second in terms of administrative authority. Her influences extended well beyond the classroom walls or administrative offices. Prosser transferred to another dual teaching and administrative position at Tougaloo College in Tougaloo, Mississippi. Even as their Dean and Registrar, she accepted the Principal of Tougaloo High School.

Her career took an important turn when she applied for and was awarded aid from the General Education Board (established by John D. Rockefeller in 1902). In her application, she noted, "I am interested in that type of research which will lead to better teaching in elementary and high schools." She received $1,000 to apply for another year of graduate studies. Prosser spent the 1931-1932 academic year at the University of Cincinnati in residence. Prosser returned to Tougaloo College for the 1932-1933 academic year while still working on her dissertation as a faculty member. Her dissertation was approved in June of 1933.

Dean Louis Augustus Pechstein, who was the head of Prosser's Doctor of Philosophy program at the University of Cincinnati, wrote to William Holmes, the president of Tougaloo College stating, "Mrs. Prosser was accepted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Ed. last week . . . Mrs. Prosser developed into a first-rate graduate student, a very keen and penetrating thinker. She will, in our judgment, be a fine leader in the educational work with Negro college students. I am glad to give her my special commendation, for it is never an easy task for a member of her race to pursue successfully the arduous course attending securing the doctorate degree. This she has accomplished with dignity and credit."    

In 1933, she became one of the first Black women to earn a Ph.D. in psychology, graduating from Cincinnati. Prosser spent her year in 1934 improving training for teachers who worked in Mississippi's black schools; Prosser planned a summer program for the teachers at Jackson College and would often guide workshops in programs for teachers.

After finishing the Jackson summer school program, On August 28, Prosser, her husband, and her sister Katharine Beverly were coming back to Mississippi after visiting family in Texas when they were involved in a head-on collision near Shreveport, Louisiana. After the accident, she was transported to the Tri-State Sanitarium in Shreveport, where she died on September 5, 1934. Prosser was brought to San Antonio, Texas, for a burial and funeral service, and there was a memorial service in her honor at Tougaloo College. Prosser headstone resides in Southern Memorial Park in San Antonio, where her headstone reads, "How many hopes lie buried here."   

Many of her positions were cited during the debates over school segregation in the 1920s. She was a critical voice for the Black community when women's academics were scarce. Prosser's contributions to improving education for all students can be felt in many policies still being used throughout the teaching community today. Prosser posted a powerful argument regarding the effects of racial inequality on the mental health of African American children. In her dissertation, she discussed optional education avenues, exploring reasons for providing children the opportunity to be educated according to their ability, not their socioeconomic status. She cited examples of psychological stress in students incurred because of racial discrepancies and racial isolation.

Prosser voiced her support for segregated schools and why they benefited students and staff. She also provided reasons this segregation was detrimental to all students and individuals involved. Many were not in support of segregated schools since educational institutions were microcosms of the racist society that existed outside the school's walls. Though the topic was highly debated, The Association of Afro-American Educators displayed continued support for segregated schools in decades to come. Like Prosser, they concur that if resources are properly allocated, the benefits of segregated schools are tremendous to the black child psyche.

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