Bousfield Hall honors University’s 1st African-American alumna

The chorus, “The storm is passing over, hallelujah,” echoed beneath a large white tent as a crowd had gathered for Tuesday’s dedication ceremony of the newly constructed Bousfield Hall, named after the first African-American woman to graduate from the University.

Maudelle Tanner Brown Bousfield enrolled in the University in 1903 and three years later became the first African-American woman to graduate from the institution. Bousfield received a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and astronomy, with honors.

Later, she taught at various schools in East St. Louis, Baltimore and eventually became the first African-American dean at Wendell Phillips Academy High School, Chicago in 1926.

Then in 1931 she became the first African American woman to receive a master’s degree from the University of Chicago.

“She was a courageous pioneer,” said Chancellor Phyllis Wise in a speech she made at the ceremony.

Bousfield is the second new hall to be built at Ikenberry Commons, with more to come.

“I think it’s something to have a new center erected that’s been intentionally named after the first African-American graduate,” said Rory James, director of the Bruce D. Nesbitt African American Cultural Center. “I think that’s something to be heralded and applauded to our housing and residence life department for moving forward and actually considering using this opportunity to name this after an alumna.”

Leonard Evans, Bousfield’s oldest grandson, weighed in.

“It’s a great honor to us because it’s a recognition of what an outstanding individual she was,” he said. “There’s a lot of people they could have named this building after, a lot of deserving people, but they picked her. I feel humble.”

Evans reflected on the many life lessons Bousfield taught him.

“She was a determined person and tenacious. She focused on something and wouldn’t accept less than succeeding in it,” he said. “She wouldn’t let you say you can’t do it. Her response would be something like, ‘Well, you’re saying you can’t do it and I’m saying you simply haven’t done it yet.’”

Evans also mentioned that he gained many insights when his grandmother tutored him in math, insisting that the reason he studied math was “to learn how to think.”

Jessica Newman, multicultural advocate for Bousfield Hall and senior in LAS, said she has been influenced by Bousfield and wants to be an educator and leader in life.

She also commented on the quality of the residents in the hall.

“Most of Bousfield’s residents are leaders on campus … and it’s just nice to be a part of that diverse leadership here.”

Newman also described how she thought the University has grown from a cultural standpoint since Bousfield was the only African-American on campus from 1903-1905.

“We aren’t honoring her today because she was an African-American woman, we’re honoring her for showing all of us the impact that a single individual can make with hard work, determination and a good dose of fearlessness,” Wise said. “That’s what we mean when we talk about transformational experiences.”

Edward can be reached at [email protected]