The first African American to teach at Vassar was visiting English professor and poet Sterling Brown. In March of 1945, he came to campus to speak about his book, A Negro Looks at the South (which actually was not published until 2007). He was so popular, he was offered a visiting professorship in the English Department for the following fall.
The first Black tenure-track faculty member didn’t arrive for another nine years.
Henrietta T. Smith came to Vassar as an instructor in Psychology, housed in Blodgett, in the fall of 1954. She achieved status as full professor in 1968, and was named the Margaret Stiles Halleck Chair of Social Sciences in 1973.
Professor Smith was not just the first Black professor on campus, she was also the first Black woman to teach on campus. Her research interests included the perception and acquisition of sex role behaviors and values in young children, “the education of deprived children,” the psychology of Elizabeth I of Great Britain, and the psychological development of adults over 30 and under 65. In addition to her work at Vassar, Smith also served as a trustee at Marist College and Manhattan Marymount College.
In her early years, she lived in Kendrick, Cushing, and Rombout House. She later purchased a home on Vassar Lake Drive. She retired from Vassar in 1990.