Sadie Alexander's Birth Place: Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander — Woman of Many Firsts
Sadie Alexander was a successful black lawyer in a time when there were few female lawyers at all. She was born in 1898 at 700 Westview Street to an already very successful family. Her father, Aaron Mossell, was the first African-American to receive a law degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her grandfather was an Episcopal Bishop. One of her uncles started the first African American hospital while another was a famous painter.
Starting in1916, Sadie Alexander attended the University of Pennsylvania. She said of it; “Let us imagine you came from Outer Space and entered the University Of Pennsylvania School Of Education. You spoke perfect English, but no one spoke to you. Such circumstances made a student either dropout or a survivor so strong that she could not be overcome, regardless of the indignities.” Alexander came out a survivor. She was the only black student in her class so she was the target of a lot of racism. None of the restaurants on 34th and Walnut would serve her. She resorted to eating lunch from home by herself. This did not stop her. She finished her undergraduate studies in only three years, graduating with a bachelor of science in education with honors. In June 1921 Sadie Alexander became the first African American woman to receive a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Pennsylvania. Despite her achievements, she had trouble finding a job at the predominately white companies in Philly. She moved temporarily to North Carolina to find work, but later moved back home to be near Raymond Pace Alexander.
Sadie and Raymond met while at university. They married on November 29, 1923. Raymond opened his own law firm. A year after their marriage, Sadie decided that she wanted to join her husband at his firm. She then went to work with her husband until 1959 when he became the first black judge in Philadelphia. During that time, Sadie worked on estate and family law. She became the first African American woman to argue before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. After 1959, she opened her own firm where she continued the work she had done with her husband.
In order to practice law, Sadie had to go back to law school. In 1924, she became the first African American woman to enroll at the University of Pennsylvania School of Law. While at Penn, she was elected to the UPenn Law Review, even though the Dean opposed it. After graduation, she became the first African American woman admitted to the Pennsylvania Bar. Between 1920 and 1930, only twelve other blacks were admitted, and for the twelve years before 1920, no blacks had been admitted to the bar.
Sadie Alexander left her biggest mark as a champion for civil rights. After facing a lot of discrimination herself, she went on to help correct the loopholes in Philadelphia’s civil rights law of 1887. Along with her husband, she took many legal actions to stop blacks from being refused service. They helped draft the Equal Rights Law, which was signed by the Governor on June 11, 1935. In 1946, President Truman created the President’s Committee on Civil Rights to write a report with recommendations for how to better protects civil rights. Due to her past work, Sadie was appointed to the committee. Congress rejected the recommendations. The work paid off, however, when Philly passed the Fair Employment Practices Ordinance based on ideas in the report.
In 1949, the City of Philadelphia needed a new charter. A committee, headed by Sadie Alexander, was created to make sure the charter provided equal treatment in the city. The charter created the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations of which Alexander became chairwoman in1962. She eventually resigned because she felt there were too many restrictions on the Commission. She also wanted to begin studying and recording the contributions of blacks in Philadelphia, who, like herself, had worked extremely hard to bring about change in Philly.
- Hewitt, Damon T. A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words: The Legacy of Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander. 16 Nat'l Black L.J 109 1998-2000.
- Mack, Kenneth Walter. A Social History Of Everyday Practice: Sadie T.M. Alexander And The Incorporation of Black Women Into The American Legal Profession, 1925-1960. 87 Cornell L. Rev. 1405 2001-2002.
- Nier III, Charles Lewis. Sweet Are The Uses Of Adversity: The Civil Rights Activism Of Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander. 8 Temp. Pol. & Civ. Rts. L. Rev. 59 1998-1999.