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Profiles in Black: Inez Beverly Prosser (1897-1934)

Text: Anita Debro

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Inez Beverly Prosser is regarded as one of the first black women to receive a doctorate in psychology, an admirable accomplishment in 1933. It was Prosser’s doctoral research on the impact of segregation and integration on young black children that led to her becoming a pioneer in mental health.

Prosser was born at the end of the 19th century in central Texas.  She was the second of 11 children and she had a thirst for knowledge that led her to become the first in her family to attend college. After graduating valedictorian from Yoakum Colored High School, she went on to study education at Prairie View Normal College (now Prairie View A&M University). Prosser pursued bachelor’s and master’s degrees while she served as a teacher. She soon decided she wanted to purse a doctorate in psychology and enrolled in the University of Cincinnati.

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For her doctoral research, Prosser examined the self-esteem and achievement of black children in segregated schools and compared it to the self-esteem of those in integrated schools. Her findings supported higher self-esteem and achievement of those black children in segregated schools.  Her research suggested that black children in integrated settings suffered lower self-esteem and less support. For pro-integrationists, Prosser’s research was controversial, but others used it to support continued segregation as long as racism was rampant in the country.

Prosser’s name and research would be recognized in the world of psychology for decades. Her life was cut short when she was killed in a car accident in 1934, just one year after she earned her doctorate degree.