Winners from the March 2019 essay contest in North Philadelphia, birthplace of Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander. 

Sadie T.M. Alexander 

Social Justice Essay Contest

(Contest ends February 18, 2020)


Sadie T.M. Alexander, born on January 2, 1898, was undoubtedly one of the most pioneering women of African descent in the United States. Born into a prominent black family in Philadelphia, Alexander led a life of service, prestigious educational accomplishments, and leadership.  Alexander’s uncle was infamous painter Henry Ossawa Tanner and her aunt Dr. Hallie F. Mossell founded Tuskegee Institute’s School of Nursing and Hospital.

After earning a scholarship to Howard University in Washington, D.C., Sadie’s mother encouraged her to attend the University of Pennsylvania instead. While at the University of Penn, she experienced harrowing discrimination from students and professors alike. After graduating from Penn with honors and her Bachelor’s of Science degree in education, Sadie was denied election into Phi Beta Kappa Honors Fraternity because of her gender and race. 


Instead of quitting, Alexander earned her M.A. and Ph.D. in economics from Penn, ultimately becoming the first black woman to earn the degree. Upon her graduation, Sadie served as the first national president of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated, from 1919-1923.  Alexander also enrolled in University of Pennsylvania Law School becoming the first woman to earn both her Ph.D. and Juris Doctorate. Throughout her life, Sadie M. Alexander advocated against civil rights violations, Jim crow, and employment inequality, thus, leaving a legacy of a strong commitment to social justice for many to follow. 



Lia B. Epperson, Knocking Down Doors: The Trailblazing Life of Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander, Pennsylvania’s First Black Woman Lawyer(Stanford, CA: Women’s Legal History Biography Project, Stanford University Law School: 1998); J. Clay


Smith, Emancipation: The Making of the Black Lawyer (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press: 1993).


Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. (n.d.). Retrieved January 9, 2019, from


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