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Josephine Silone Yates

Josephine Silone Yates

Black History Month - Focus on Science

As we move with hope and vigor towards a time in which the monumental achievements and contributions of Black and Indigenous folks are recognized with priority for 12 months of the year rather than sequestered to our calendar's shortest month, hBARSCI wishes to pay tribute to a handful of extremely important scientists. 

Though often underrepresented in history, these are people who have aided immeasurably in the evolution of humankind's understanding of our world and universe, and in our ability to survive on a small rock tearing through space at 1,000 miles per hour.

We will feature a Scientist weekly throughout the month, and it is our hope that these small bits of commentary will encourage further curiosity and learning. If there is a particular scientist who you would like to see featured here at any time of year, don't hesitate to reach out and let us know.  

Josephine Silone Yates

“The aim of all true education is to give to body and soul all the beauty, strength, and perfection of which they are capable, to fit the individual for complete living”

– Josephine Silone Yates

Today we’re going to recognize a child chemistry prodigy by the name of Josephine Silone Yates. Born in 1859 (or 1852 if you look in some other places) Yates grew up in the New York home of her Mother’s Father, a freed slave by the name of Lymas Reeve.  

After blazing past the ranks of her elementary school, she moved to an uncle’s house in Philly to attend the Institute for Colored Youth, which has since taken the name Cheney University. There she received mentoring from another of our featured Black scientists, Fanny Jackson Coppin. 

A year later she found herself as the only Black student in an all-white high school, where she would go on to earn valedictorian honors and graduate a year early as the schools first non-white graduate. 

After becoming the first African American certified to teach in Rhode Island, she plowed through a master’s program at the National University of Illinois and became a professor at Lincoln University in Missouri.  

Yates was the first black woman to head a science department at a University, the second president of the National associate of Colored Women, posted the highest test score ever recorded in Newport RI teacher certification testing, the first African American to earn teaching certification in RI public schools, recipient of an invitation from Booker T. Washington to principal at the Tuskegee Institution, the first president of the Women’s League of Kansas City, and a columnist for the first magazine published by black women in America. 

The list of accolades and contributions to education, women’s rights, civil rights and so forth is well worth anyone doing some research on. 

It’s super important to spend quality time this month recognizing how profoundly sad it is that our history of unjust attempts on structurally limiting the progress of our fellow citizens is really not so old at all, and our times haven’t changed nearly enough. If my success in life required a fraction of a percent of the fortitude required for Yates’ all too brief 52-year journey, I would’ve been roadkill before kindergarten.

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