Category Archives: African American

Otelia Cromwell Day

Otelia Cromwell
Otelia Cromwell, first African American Smith College graduate.

 Otelia Cromwell Day is a Smith College community-wide celebration. Being first to do something and inclusion are the ongoing themes. Traditionally, Fall classes are cancelled and an annual slate of workshops, lectures, films and entertainment are convened to honor Smith’s first African American graduate. New York City Smith College alums gathered on November 4, 2017 to celebrate Dr. Cromwell’s legacy.

Recent campus keynote speakers have included: Roxane Gay, writer-professor; Sonia Sanchez, poet/arts activist; and Dr. Julianne Malveaux, economist-commentator.

Black Alumnae of Smith College (BASC), the College’s first Affinity group, collaborated with the local Smith College Club of New York City to host the event that attracted over 70 alums. To see photos and video highlights, click here.

Prof. Elizabeth Pryor, keynote speaker.

 This year was New York City’s second Otelia Cromwell Day. We were honored to feature keynote speakers Elizabeth Stordeur Pryor, Smith Professor of History and Dr. Carla Shedd, Smith alum, Class of 2000, Professor of Urban Education, City University of New York. Their book signing was a double highlight: Smith College Professor of History, Elizabeth Stordeur Pryor (daughter of Richard Pryor, noted American comedian) is author of ‘Colored Travelers: Mobility and the Fight for Citizenship Before the Civil War,’ (University of North Carolina Press, 2016); and Dr. Carla Shedd, Professor of Urban Education, The Graduate Center, City University of New York, is the author of ‘Unequal City: Race, Schools, and Perceptions of Injustice,’ (Russell Sage Foundation, 2015). Last year’s (2016) NYC keynote speakers were Smith Professors Paula Giddings and Riché Daniel Barnes.

Dr. Carla Shedd, keynoted Otelia Cromwell Day 2017.

Background: The first ‘official’ Otelia Cromwell Day was held in 1989 to provide the Smith community with an opportunity for further education and reflection about racism and diversity.

However, 1970s black students started the ‘original’ Otelia Cromwell recognition. Their campus activism on racism, recruitment, and retention, are still important issues today!

My classmates in the class of 1974, the largest class of Black students, considered the question: “If we are the largest black group, who was the first? Our research led to the discovery of Otelia Cromwell and other distinguished nineteenth century African American students! The 70s black students were the first to start the ‘Otelia Society.’ We designed and wore T-shirts with imprints of Otelia Cromwell’s photo.

“People who end up as the ‘first’ don’t actually set out to be the first. They set out to do something they love.” Condoleessa ‘Condi’ Rice.

Were you the first to do something? Please share!


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