The University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School is proud to honor the trailblazing legacy of Dr. Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander Ed’1918, G’1921, L’1927, Hon’1974, the first Black woman to graduate from the Law School, with the introduction of the inaugural class of Sadie Scholars. In addition to being the first Black woman to earn a JD from the Law School, Alexander was also the first Black woman in America to earn a PhD in Economics, also from Penn.
From a broad pool of impressive applicants, the scholarship committee selected Kanyinsola Ajayi L’24, Rheem Brooks L’24, and Angel Reed L’24 for their embodiment of Alexander’s resilient and pioneering spirit.
This full-tuition scholarship in honor of Alexander was initially suggested by members of the Law School’s Black Law Student Association (BLSA). Next year, the Law School plans to expand the program, selecting a total of five new Sadie Scholars for the 2022-2023 academic year.
“I am endlessly grateful for the tireless work and advocacy of the members of BLSA, who made the Dr. Sadie T.M. Alexander Scholarship possible,” said Reed. “It is an honor to carry on Dr. Alexander’s legacy, and the opportunity to do so is evident of [the efforts of] the BLSA students who go above and beyond to make Penn Law an equitable and inclusive environment for the entire community. I hope to make them proud and continue to break down barriers for those who come after me, as they did for me, and as Dr. Alexander did for so many generations of Black women.”
Throughout her education and career, Alexander faced harsh discrimination with profound strength and determination. While she was completing her undergraduate studies, librarians refused to allow her to check out books, and restaurants and drugstores near campus refused to serve her. In law school, Dean William E. Mikell attempted to prevent her from joining the Law Review, despite her high grades having earned her a position; ultimately, and with the advocacy and support of her classmates and professors, Alexander became the first Black woman to serve on the Law Review’s editorial board.
“I am eternally grateful to BLSA for advocating for this scholarship honoring the life and legacy of Dr. Sadie T.M. Alexander. This scholarship acknowledges that, in spite of pervasive anti-Black racism and gender discrimination, Dr. Alexander excelled in multiple disciplines and paved the way for others to follow,” Brooks said. “Dr. Alexander embodied resilience, excellence, and a deep commitment to racial and economic justice and public service. It is an honor to be part of the inaugural class of Dr. Sadie T.M. Alexander Scholars.”
Alexander pursued a dynamic career that spanned both the private and the public sectors. After graduating from Law School and becoming the first Black woman admitted to the Pennsylvania Bar, she practiced estate and family law as a partner at the Philadelphia law firm of her husband Raymond Pace Alexander W’1920. From 1928-1930, and then again from 1934-1938, Alexander was the first Black woman to serve as the City of Philadelphia’s Assistant City Solicitor. She became the first woman Secretary of the National Bar Association in 1943, and in 1952, she was appointed to the City of Philadelphia’s Commission on Human Relations.
“As a student and a professional, Dr. Alexander faced cruel and unnecessary discrimination based on her intersectional identity as a Black woman,” said Dean and Bernard G. Segal Professor of Law Ted Ruger. “It is essential that we continue to work toward dismantling systems of oppression and instead cultivating a more just and inclusive environment, both within and beyond our institutional walls.”
More information about this scholarship program, as well as other initiatives that celebrate and elevate diversity in our Law School, can be found on the Office of Equity and Inclusion’s website.