Otelia Cromwell (April 8, 1874 – April 25, 1972) was the first African-American graduate of Smith College. The college later began the tradition of canceling afternoon and evening classes in her honor every November as a venue to talk about race and diversity.
Cromwell went on to become an educator, teaching in a public school in Washington D.C. She eventually earned a master’s degree from Columbia University in New York City, then went to Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut and received her Ph.D in 1926. In doing, so she was the first African-American woman to receive a Yale degree.
Cromwell went on to became a professor at Miner Teachers College, later heading the literature department. She wrote a variety of books and articles, including a biography of Lucretia Mott. Cromwell retired in 1944.
A private high school in Washington D.C., Cromwell Academy, was named in honor of Otelia and her brother John by its founder, Ruby Woodson. Founded in 1972 to provide college preparatory education to high potential students of all social and economic backgrounds, the academy opened its doors in the educational annex of Peoples Congregational Church. The school closed its doors in 1985.