Women’s History at Yale University: Mary Goodman, a former slave and New Haven…


Women's History at Yale University: Mary Goodman, a former slave and New Haven tradeswoman, provided the first gift to Yale by a person of color. In 1871 Goodman bequeathed all of her property—$5,000—to establish a scholarship fund for African American students of divinity. To honor her generosity, the Corporation voted that Mrs. Goodman be given a place in the Yale Lot in the Grove Street Cemetery.

Her scholarship was soon put to use. In 1874, James William Morris became the first African American student to graduate from the Yale Divinity School. An 1871 graduate of Lincoln University, Morris attended Yale for one year to earn his graduate degree. Solomon Melvin Coles, who had entered Yale in 1872, graduated the year after Morris.

For more information on Mrs. Goodman's continued impact, read Yale Bulletin article from September 27, 2002 "'Blessing' of washerwoman's legacy brings New Haven policeman to Divinity School" highlighting scholarship awardee Anthony Campbell:

New Haven Police Officer Anthony Campbell firmly believes that by extending a helping hand to another person, you not only assist that one person, you bring benefit to everyone connected to him or her, including future generations of descendants.

The way Campbell sees it, Mary Goodman's original act of goodwill over a century ago is still "blessing" people today, and he fully intends to continue her legacy by being a blessing to others.

"I'm struck by the fact that here's this woman who leaves her life savings to Yale 100 years before I was born, and 100-plus years later, here's little me -- a kid from Harlem who wants to get a Master of Divinity degree but couldn't do it if I had to pay out of my own pocket," he says. "In coming to me, her gift makes it possible for me to extend even further what she has done, which is to help and love people."

Photograph credit: Sheryl Carter Negash