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Wed, 04.08.1874

Otelia Cromwell, Professor and Scholar born

Otelia Cromwell

*Otelia Cromwell was born on this date in 1874. She was a Black scholar and Professor of English Language and Literature.

Born in Washington, D.C., Cromwell was the daughter of Lucy McGuinn and John Wesley Cromwell and the eldest of six children. Her mother died when she was 12, leaving her responsible for her five younger siblings. After graduating from the Miner Normal School (also known as the Normal School for Colored Girls), Cromwell taught in Washington, D.C., schools for several years before attending Howard University.

In 1898 she transferred to Smith College and graduated in 1900. At that time, only two other black students at Smith College, Helen Maria Chesnutt and her sister Ethel graduated a year later. Cromwell continued teaching D.C.'s segregated public schools for a few years before resuming her education. She taught English, German, and Latin at the M Street High School and the Armstrong Manual Training School.

After attending summer sessions, she earned a master's degree from Columbia University in New York City. She was awarded an academic scholarship and received her Ph.D. in English from Yale University in 1926. Her dissertation, Thomas Heywood, Dramatist: A Study in Elizabethan Drama of Everyday Life, was published by Yale University Press in 1928. Following her time at Yale, Cromwell became a professor of English Language and Literature at Miner Teachers College, later becoming Head of the literature department. She taught there until her retirement in 1944.

Throughout her academic career, Cromwell worked to advance the cause of civil rights and racial and gender equality. After retirement, Otelia Cromwell began what was to be her major scholarly work, The Life of Lucretia Mott (Harvard University Press, 1958). Cromwell edited Readings from Negro Authors, an early anthology of African American literary contributions. She had a brother John. She was the aunt of Adelaide M. Cromwell, a sociologist, and historian who was the first African American instructor at Smith College. Otelia Cromwell died on April 25, 1972, at 98.

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