Sadie T.M. Alexander

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Sadie T.M. Alexander was an African American attorney whose greatest accomplishments were becoming the first-ever Black woman to be admitted to the Pennsylvania Bar, and being one of the first women to earn a doctorate in America.

Early Life and Education

Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1898. Alexander's father was an attorney, but he left the family when she was just one year old and her mother suffered from depression. Her extended family was very involved. Alexander's grandfather was the editor of the AME Church Review and the Cristian Recorder. Her uncle founded Frederick Douglass Hospital, and her aunt founded the Nurse's School and Hospital at Tuskegee Institute. Alexander went to high school in Washington D.C. at M Street High School, which is now Dunbar High School. After graduating high school, she received a scholarship to Howard University but her mother insisted that she go to the University of Pennsylvania. In school, Alexander faced discrimination from her teachers and fellow students. In 1918, she graduated with her B.S. and M.A. in economics. In 1919, she became the first national president of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority. In 1921, Alexander earned her doctorate in economics, making her one of the first Black women, and one of the first women to earn a doctorate degree.


After getting her doctorate, she worked as an actuary for a Black-owned life insurance company, the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company. She stayed there for two years before moving back to Pennsylvania, where she married Raymond Pace Alexander. She and Raymond had four daughters, but two of those daughters died when they were babies. The surviving two were named Mary, after Alexander's mother, and Rae. In 1924, she enrolled in the University of Pennsylvania School of Law, making her the first Black woman to ever do so. She graduated with honors, and in 1927, she became the first-ever Black woman admitted to the Pennsylvania Bar. She was also the first African American to hold both a Ph.D. and a J.D. Alexander worked for the city of Philadelphia as an Assistant Solicitor before joining her husband's law firm, where they called their partnership Alexander & Alexander. They were one of the first married legal teams in the U.S. She focused on racial discrimination, segregation, and employment inequality cases. After four years of working with her husband, Alexander reclaimed her position as Assistant Solicitor for Philadelphia. While in this position, she created a legal aid bureau specifically to help African Americans who could not afford lawyers. In 1947, she was appointed to President Harry S. Truman's Committee of Human Rights. This committee's work led to the criminalization of lynching. Alexander continued to practice law until retiring in 1982. She died due to complications of Alzheimer's in 1989 at 91 years of age.

Sadie Tanner Mossell helped many people get legal services and she helped make a countrywide difference in illegalizing lynching. She also broke through many racial barriers in her career.