All Scholars

MORGAN, Helen Clarissa

  • Image
  • Date of Birth: February 25, 1845
  • Born City: Masonville, Delaware County
  • Born State/Country: NY
  • Date of Death: May 21, 1914
  • Death City: Oberlin
  • Death State/Country: OH
  • Education:

    A.B., Oberlin College, 1866; A.M. honoris causa, Oberlin College, 1911.

  • Professional Experience:

    Fisk University 1869-1907, Greek, Latin and Math; (from 1875) Professor of Latin.

  • Publications:

    “Fisk University Before the Jubilee Singers Went Forth,” Fisk University News 2 (October 1911) 14-16.

  • Notes:

    Helen Clarissa Morgan was among the first generation of white teachers who went south to teach the newly freed slaves. In 1869, three years after earning her bachelor’s degree at Oberlin College, she joined the faculty of Fisk University in Nashville, TN. “There in rude barracks, which had been built for the soldiers of the Union, she lived and wrought with her fellow teachers, in the face of hostile public sentiment and enduring social ostracism” (Tenney 1914, 5). A college faculty was established for 1875-1876 and Miss Morgan was the first woman to hold a “professor’s chair in an American coeducational institution” (Appleton, 1900, 339). Deeply dedicated to her work at Fisk, she refused an offer in 1878 to teach at Vassar College (Clayton 1880, 442). One of her students was W. E. B. Du Bois, who earned his B.A. from Fisk in 1888. She recommended him to Harvard University’s admissions committee. In David Levering Lewis’s words: “Morgan’s description of Willie’s work in Latin was as detailed as it was enthusiastic, speaking of Willie’s ‘manliness, faithfulness to duty and earnestness in study.’ Morgan’s careful comments track[ed] her student through the twenty-first book of Livy, 5/5ths [sic] of the Odes of Horace, 3 Satires, 3 of the shorter Epistles and the entire Ars Poetica, and the Agricola of Tacitus,” (Lewis 1993, 76).

  • Sources:

    “A True Friend of the Race,” Nashville Globe (22 February 1907) 7; “Honorary Degrees Conferred,” Oberlin Alumni Magazine 7 (July 1911) 377-81; Clayton, W. Woodford, History of Davidson County, Tennessee (Philadelphia: J.W. Lewis and Co., 1880); David Levering Lewis, W.E.B. Du Bois Biography of  Race, 1868-1919 (New York: Holt, 1993); Azariah S. Root, Annual Report of the Librarian of Oberlin College for the Year Ending August 31, 1896 (Oberlin: Oberlin College, 1897); Schlicher, J. J. “Reports from the Classical Field,” Classical Journal 4 (1909) 366-71; H.M. Tenney, “Tribute to Miss Morgan,” The Oberlin News (27 May 1914): 5, 8; Tennessee Probate Court Books, Wills, 1912-1915, vol. 38: 564-7; James Wilson and John Fiske (eds.), Appleton’s Encyclopedia (New York: D. Appleton, 1900) 4:399


  • Author: Michele Valerie Ronnick