Inez Beverly Prosser (née Inez Beverly)
December 30, 1895 – September 5, 1934
Inez Beverly was born in San Marcos, Texas on December 30, the year of her birth is not known for certain but is estimated as 1895. Beverly was the first daughter but second child of eleven children born to Veola Hamilton and Samuel Andrew Beverly. Veola was a housewife while Samuel provided for the family by working as a waiter. Given the time, there were few schools available for Black children which caused the family to move around Texas in search of access to quality education. During Beverly’s childhood, her family relocated from San Marcos to Yoakum and then Corpus Christi.
Finding no schools in Corpus Christi that would admit Black students, Beverly and her older brother returned to Yoakum. They settled in at the home of a family member and enrolled at Yoakum Colored School from which Beverly would graduate in 1910 as valedictorian. At the time of her graduation, Beverly’s dreams of continuing her education met a roadblock. Concerned that they might only be able to afford college for one child, Beverly’s parents decided to send her brother to college. Recognizing that Beverly was more passionate about attending college, her brother convinced their parents to allow her to go instead.
Beverly enrolled at what would become Prairie View A&M University from which she obtained a two-year teaching certificate and was once again valedictorian of her class. With her certificate in hand, Beverly moved to Austin and began her teaching career at a Black elementary school before moving on to teaching at high schools. While working as a teacher, Beverly met and in 1916 married Allen Rufus Prosser. In 1926, Prosser completed a bachelor’s degree from Austin’s Samuel Huston College but segregation created complications for her educational aspirations.
At the time, there were no grad schools in the state of Texas that allowed Black students to enroll. In pursuit of obtaining an advanced degree, Prosser had to look outside of her local area. She enrolled in a correspondence master’s degree program at the University of Colorado which allowed her to remain in Austin while continuing to teach. Prosser’s master’s thesis, “The Comparative Reliability of Objective Tests in English Grammar,” used a research study to determine the reliability of different types of tests for assessing students’ aptitude for English grammar.
Prosser’s focus area was education but the combination of taking psychology courses and the subject of her thesis guided her more deeply into psychology. With her master’s degree, Prosser obtained a faculty position at Tillotson College, a small private HBCU in Austin. After three years, Prosser moved on to Tougaloo College near Jackson, Mississippi where she held both a faculty and registrar position at the college and was the principal of Tougaloo High School.
After applying for and being awarded a fellowship to continue her studies, Prosser enrolled in a doctoral program at the University of Cincinnati. She spent the 1931-1932 academic year on-site in Ohio before returning to work at Tougaloo where she continued to work remotely on her dissertation during the 1932-1933 academic year. Her dissertation consisted of a small research study designed to focus on the “Non-academic development of negro children in mixed and segregated schools.” Following the successful submission of her dissertation in June 1933, Prosser became the first Black woman to obtain a Ph.D. in psychology.
Unfortunately, just a little over a year after earning her doctorate, Prosser’s life was cut short when she was involved in a fatal car accident near Shreveport, Louisiana. Her doctoral dissertation investigated the impact of integrated versus segregated education on Black children and was referenced in later civil rights cases.
- Bazar, Jennifer. 2010. “Inez Beverly Prosser.” Feminist Voices. 2010. https://feministvoices.com/profiles/inez-beverly-prosser.
- Benjamin, Ludy T. 2008. “America’s First Black Female Psychologist.” Monitor on Psychology. American Psychological Association. November 2008. https://www.apa.org/monitor/2008/11/prosser.
- “Inez Beverly Prosser (1895-1934).” 2015. Inez Beverly Prosser Biography. GoodTherapy. July 27, 2015. https://www.goodtherapy.org/famous-psychologists/inez-beverly-prosser.html.
- “Inez Beverly Prosser, Educator, and Psychologist Born.” 2021. African American Registry. December 21, 2021. https://aaregistry.org/story/inez-beverly-prosser-educator-and-psychologist-born/.
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