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Wed, 06.06.1906

Theodora Boyd, Educator, and Writer born

Theodora Boyd

*Theodora Boyd was born on this date in 1906. She was a Black writer and educator.

From Charleston, S.C., Theodora Roosevelt Boyd was the daughter of James and Jeannette Boyd. She was educated in the public schools of Newton, Mass., and by 1923, she had been afforded an opportunity few Blacks would be able to partake in, and she seized it with fervor and great determination.  It was only three years after women had won the right to vote, the jazz age was catching on, and the Harlem Renaissance was producing a growing number of talented Black writers, poets, and musicians.  That was when the young Boyd would enter Radcliffe, blazing an indelible trail.

Despite some of the advances made by women and Blacks, it was still 1923, and their plights, in general, were ignored.  She faced social taboos, racism, sexism, and the biased views of other African Americans, yet she remained focused and driven. Majoring in Romance Languages, Boyd excelled academically and listed the Spanish club as one of her extracurricular activities.

She took up basketball and field hockey, in both of which she was outstandingly skilled. Members of the "Seven Sisters," competing against one another, were comprised of Radcliffe, Barnard (New York, N.Y.), Bryn Mawr (Bryn Mawr, Pa.), Mount Holyoke (South Hadley, Mass.), Smith (Northampton, Mass.), Vassar (Poughkeepsie, N.Y.) and Wellesley Colleges (Wellesley, Mass.). After earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1927, Boyd began a teaching career that would span 50 years, starting at Clark College in Atlanta, Ga. Spending two years there, she continued at Radcliffe, earning a Master’s in 1930. She returned to the teaching world at Texas Teacher’s College in Tyler, Texas.

While the Great Depression crippled the nation, after one year in Texas, Theodora continued to find work.  She jumped at an opportunity to teach physical education and French at St. Augustine's College in Raleigh, N.C. Also during this time, she sought her Doctorate at Radcliffe and became head of the French department at St. Augustine's.

From 1931 to 1935, she spent her summers attending Harvard University summer school, but it was not until 1943 that she received her Ph.D., Phi Beta Kappa. She also earned a Certificate de La Langue Françoise, de Civilization Françoise from the Sorbonne (The University of Paris). Although Boyd received her three degrees from a white institution, she could only teach at Black colleges.

She took on the challenge of being the first woman to head up Howard's Department of Romance Languages, succeeding internationally renowned scholars like Dr. Valaurez Spratlin and Dr. Mercer Cook. Spratlin is noted for being the first African American to earn a doctorate in Spanish and serving as Chair at Howard University from 1927-1961. Cook immediately preceded Theodora and was appointed ambassador to the Republic of Niger by President Kennedy in 1961. He held that post for three years.

When 68-year-old Theodora stepped down from her role as Chair in 1974, she stayed on board as a part-time professor until 1976. Theodora Boyd never married or had any children, and by 1977, her health had deteriorated.  She moved back to her family's home in South Carolina and was cared for by relatives until she died on December 26th, 1977.

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