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Josephine Silone Yates (1900)
*Josephine Silone Yates was born on this date in 1859. She was a Black chemist, journalist, and educator.
Josephine Silone was the second daughter of Alexander and Parthenia Reeve Silone and was born in Mattituck, NY. During her childhood, her family lived with her maternal grandfather, a freed slave, Lymas Reeves. Her mother taught her to read from the Bible. She started school at six and was rapidly advanced by her teachers. Josephine's uncle, Rev. John Bunyan Reeve, was the pastor of the Lombard Street Central Church in Philadelphia. At the age of 11, she went to live with him so that she could attend the Institute for Colored Youth., later Cheyney State College. There she was mentored by its director, Fanny Jackson Coppin.
The next year, Rev. Reeve moved to Howard University, and Josephine went to live with her maternal aunt, Francis I. Girard, in Newport, Rhode Island. There she attended grammar school and later Rogers High School. She was the only black student at both but was given respect and support by her teachers. Her science teacher considered her his brightest pupil and enabled her to do additional laboratory work in chemistry. She graduated as valedictorian of the Rogers High School class of 1877 and received a medal for a scholarship. She was the first black student to graduate from Rogers High School.
Silone chose to attend the Rhode Island State Normal School in Providence to become a teacher rather than pursue a university career. She graduated in 1879 with honors, the only Black student in her class. She was the first Black certified to teach in the schools of Rhode Island. She later received a master's degree from the National University of Illinois. Silone was one of the first Black teachers hired at Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri.
President Inman Edward Page considered it essential to replace the previously white faculty with Black teachers as role models for the school's Black students. The teachers lived on campus in the dormitories with the students. She taught chemistry, elocution, and English literature. Upon her promotion to the natural science department head, she became the first Black woman to head a college science department and the first Black woman to hold a full professorship at any U.S. college or university.
Silone was clear about her purpose in teaching. In a 1904 essay, she wrote: "The aim of all true education is to give to body and soul all the beauty, strength, and perfection of which they are capable, to fit the individual for complete living." In 1889, Josephine Silone married William Ward Yates. Many schools prohibited married women from teaching, and upon her marriage, Josephine Silone gave up her teaching position at Lincoln. She moved to Kansas City, Missouri, where her husband was the principal of Phillips School. Her daughter Josephine was born in 1890. Her son William Blyden Yates was born in 1895.
In Kansas City, Silone Yates became active in the African American women's club movement. She was a correspondent for the Woman's Era (the first monthly magazine published by black women in the United States). She wrote for other magazines, sometimes using the pseudonym Mrs. R. K. Potter. Racial uplift was one of many topics Silone Yates spoke about and wrote about. She was identified as an exemplar of her race and included as one of 100 of "America's greatest Negroes" in Twentieth-Century Negro Literature, or A Cyclopedia of Thought on the Vital Topics Relating to the American Negro in 1902. Her paper addressed the question, "Did the American Negro make, in the nineteenth century, achievements along the lines of wealth, morality, education, etc., commensurate with his opportunities? If so, what achievements did he make?"
She also published poetry, including "The Isles of Peace," "The Zephyr," and "Royal To-Day." Silone Yates helped to organize the Women's League of Kansas City, an organization for 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). Silone Yates served with the NACW for four years as the treasurer or vice-president (1897 to 1901) and four years as president (1901 to 1904).
A testament to Yates' accomplishments and acclaim may be found in a speech by Anna Julia Cooper in 1893 at the World's Congress of Representative Women in Chicago: “In organized efforts for self-help and benevolence also our women been active. The Colored Women's League, of which I am at the present corresponding secretary, has active, energetic branches in the South and West. The branch in Kansas City, with a membership of upward of one hundred and fifty, already has begun, under their vigorous president, Mrs. Yates, the erection of a building for friendless girls.”
In 1902, she was recalled by the president of Lincoln University to serve as the head of the department of English and history. In 1908 she requested to resign due to illness, but the Board of Regents did not accept, and she stayed as the advisor to women at Lincoln. Her husband died in 1910, after which Josephine Silone Yates chose to return to Kansas City. She died on September 3, 1912, after a short illness.