Dr. Jane Ellen McAllister was born October 24th, 1899 in Vicksburg, Mississippi. The oldest of three children, her father was a mail carrier and her mother a school teacher. In a time when more than 90 percent of the black population of Mississippi made a living from share-cropping or domestic service, the McAllister family represented the small percentage of middle-class blacks. Young Ellie, as she was called, excelled in school. She graduated from high school at the age of 15, and in 1919 became
the youngest graduate of Talladega College in Talladega,
Alabama. In 1929, she became the first black woman to receive a Ph.D. from Columbia University in New York City. For 50 years she taught education and psychology at such historically black colleges and universities as Southern University, Virginia State, Fisk, Dillard, Grambling, Miner Teachers College (now part of the University of the District of Columbia), and Jackson State. She retired in 1970. I met Dr. McAllister in 1986, while working as a staff photographer for the Vicksburg Evening Post. Five years later, I wrote my Master's thesis on her at the University of Minnesota. As part of this project, Dr. McAllister wrote commentary to accompany the photographs. This not only gave her a "voice" within the work, it also brokedown traditional concepts of subject-object so prevalent in most portraiture. Dr. McAllister died in January 1996 at the age of 96.
Talladega College graduation, 1919.....Seventy-one years later.....With her family of dogs.....Mowing the lawn at 90.....Locked out o
f the house....."The telephone is my lifeline".....Ph.D. diploma from Columbia, 1929.....The dining room table
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