Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander Papers
Held at: University of Pennsylvania: University Archives and Records Center [Contact Us]3401 Market Street, Suite 210, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the University of Pennsylvania: University Archives and Records Center. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
Born in Philadelphia in 1898, the youngest of three children, Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander (B.S., 1918; A.M., 1919; Ph.D., 1921; LL.B., 1927) is a member of two distinguished families.
Her maternal grandfather was Benjamin Tucker Tanner (1835-1923), a Bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Bishop Tanner had seven children, the best known of whom is the painter Henry O. Tanner (1859-1937). Another daughter of Bishop Tanner, Hallie Tanner Johnson, became a social worker and physician and established the Nurses' School and Hospital at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.
Sadie Tanner Mossell's father, Aaron A. Mossell (1863-1951) (LL.B. 1888), was the first African-American to graduate from Penn's Law School. Her uncle, Nathan Francis Mossell (1856-1946) (M.D. 1882) was the first African-American to graduate from Penn's Medical School. In 1895 Dr. Mossell was a co-founder of the Frederick Douglass Hospital, which later merged with Mercy Hospital to form Mercy-Douglass. Sadie's paternal grandfather, Aaron Mossell, sr., had established a successful brick-making business in Lockport, New York.
When Sadie was a child, her mother and siblings frequently alternated residence between Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia. When she reached high school, she went to live in Washington with her uncle, Lewis Baxter Moore (Ph.D., 1896) who was dean at Howard University and the husband of her mother's sister, Sadie Elizabeth Tanner. She attended the M Street High School in Washington and graduated in 1915.
She then attended the School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania, graduating in 1918. Following her college graduation, she entered the Graduate School at Penn to study economics. In 1921, she became one of the first three black women in the U.S. to obtain a Ph.D.
Despite her academic achievements, she had difficulty finding employment in Philadelphia and went to work for the black-owned North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company in Durham, remaining there for two years. In 1923, shortly after Raymond Pace Alexander was admitted to the Bar and opened his practice, she returned to Philadelphia to be married.
The following year, in the fall of 1924, she entered the University of Pennsylvania Law School. She became the first black woman to graduate from that institution and the first black woman admitted to the Pennsylvania Bar in 1927. Thereupon, she joined her husband's practice, specializing in estate and family law. She served as Secretary to the National Bar Association.
She was appointed Assistant City Solicitor for the City of Philadelphia and held that position from 1928 to 1930 and from 1934 to 1938. From that time forward, she served on numerous boards, committees, and commissions and held office in many local and national organizations. Among her most notable activities was her service on President Truman's Committee on Human Rights in 1947 and on the Commission on Human Relations of the City of Philadelphia from 1952 until 1968. She continued her employment in her husband's firm from 1927 until 1959, when he was named to the Court of Common Pleas in Philadelphia. She subsequently practiced independently until 1976, when she joined the firm of Atkinson, Myers, and Archie in the capacity of counsel. Her national stature was recognized when President Jimmy Carter appointed her chair of the White House Conference on Aging in 1978; she was removed from this committee by Ronald Reagan in 1981. She retired from practice and from public life generally in 1982. Mrs. Alexander died in 1989 and is survived by two daughters, Mary Elizabeth Alexander Brown (1934 -) and Rae Pace Alexander Minter (1937 -).
STMA I: Biographical and Autobiographical. (2 cu. ft. and oversized items.) The first two subseries include articles, resumes, and interview material which review STMA's life and career, including her family history, practice in the law, and civic and governmental activities. Another subseries (approximately 2/3 cu. ft.) documents STMA's international travels (1937- 1980). The last subseries (approx. 1/2 cu. ft.) consists of clippings and other scrapbook material (1923-83 with some gaps). In addition, there are a number of oversized scrapbooks (1945-46 and 1963-67).
STMA II: Personal Correspondence. (7 cu. ft.) Family correspondence (with RPA [intermittent 1921-68]; EMA [1937-64]; and Isabel Tanner Temple, her aunt [1946-57]; with and about her two daughters [1935-1983]; and with assorted other relatives) comprises approx. 2 1/2 cu. ft. of this series, over half of which relates to Mary Elizabeth and Rae Pace. The remaining 4.5 cu. ft. is made up primarily of miscellaneous and unsorted correspondence (1923-80; bulk dates 1934-80 with a clump around 1947- 48). In the 1960s she carried on a correspondence with RPA's close friend, J. Turner Layton.
STMA III: General Correspondence. (2 2/3 cu. ft.; 1935-82.) Primarily miscellaneous and unsorted correspondence. As in the last (general) subseries of STMA's personal correspondence, the material is arranged in preliminary chronological order without subseries divisions. At the end of the series are several folders of condolences received by the family after RPA's death.
STMA IV: Professional Correspondence. (1 cu. ft.; 1939-83.) Primarily material pertaining to STMA's professional and civic career. The series also contains papers pertaining to her actions on behalf of law students and women in the law.
STMA V: Financial Records. (5 1/2 cu. ft.; 1924-82.) Primarily material pertaining to personal finances as opposed to those of her law practice, which are housed in STMA RPA VII.B. The records include several ledger books (1937-64); bank records (1924-82; approx. 1 cu. ft.); invoices, statements and receipts (1937-82 with greater bulk after 1974; 2 cu. ft.); insurance policies and premium statements and receipts (1919-84); ledger books and papers relating to real estate (1924-80; 1/2 cu. ft.), and wills, estate, and trust (1940-81). The records appear to cover the span of STMA's adult life without significant gaps.
STMA VI: Education. (approx. 0.5 cu. ft.; 1917-82.) Material pertaining to M Street High School and the University of Pennsylvania (general and college, graduate and law school. The bulk of the papers in the series pertain to STMA's activities as an alumna (contributions, fundraising, activities in support of women's and black students' organizations on campus, an honorary degree). A number of items relate to her academic record as a doctoral candidate and law student.
STMA VII: Law Practice and Related Professional Papers. (9 cu. ft.) The bulk of the series is made up of financial records (4 cu. ft.; 1926-82; bulk begins ca. 1936) and office diaries, appointment books, message books, and the like (5 cu. ft.; 1936-79). The series contains a number of summary records (internal memoranda, dockets, ledgers, etc.) that may be useful in gaining an overview of the history of STMA's practice and her position in her husband's firm.
STMA VIII: Legal Issues and Actions. (10 cu. ft.; 1928-81 with bulk appearing to fall in a normal distribution plateauing in the 1940s and 1950s.) Nearly half of the series is contained in the miscellaneous category (a few folders at most per client). Papers relating to the legal business of Mount Lawn Cemetery account for 2 cu. ft.; four estates account for another 2 cu. ft.; and legal business of various AME churches accounts for 1 1/3 cu. ft.
STMA IX: Government Service. (6 1/2 cu. ft.; 1946-82.) STMA began her career in government service in 1946, when she was named by President Truman to his Committee on Human Rights. Papers relating to her experience on the President's Committee (primarily correspondence and memoranda) are nearly 1 cu. ft. in bulk (1946-57; bulk dates 1947). She was a member of Philadelphia's Commission on Human Relations (CHR) from the time of its formation in 1952, having been instrumental in its inception through the Philadelphia Fellowship Commission. She served for five years as its Chairman (n.d.) and retired from the Commission in 1968. Her papers relating to the CHR should be of considerable historical interest (2 1/2 cu. ft.; 1952-72). One of the last significant chapters in the public life of STMA was her appointment by President Carter and service as the chairman of the White House Conference on Aging (approx. 1 1/2 cu. ft.; 1978-81). She was removed from her position as chair by President Reagan before the conference took place.
STMA X: Legal Organizations. (8 cu. ft.; bulk dates 1945-82.) At different periods, STMA was extremely active in two legal organizations. In the mid- 1940s, she served as secretary of the National Bar Association (NBA), the black parallel organization to the American Bar Association, which excluded blacks until 1952. Her papers relating to the NBA, together with RPA's, may be among the most historically valuable subgroups in the collection (5 cu. ft.; 1930-79; bulk dates 1944-47). From 1946, she involved herself in the Philadelphia Bar Association (approx. 1 1/2 cu. ft.; 1945-82), serving on many committees, most notably the Committee on International and Foreign Law. From 1970, she assumed a position of leadership in the Philadelphia Bar Foundation (approx. 1/2 cu. ft.; 1970-82).
STMA XI: Civic Organizations. (12 1/2 cu. ft.; 1930-82; bulk dates roughly 1940s-1970s.) STMA was active in an extraordinarily large number of civic organizations. The series contains thirty individual subseries as well as a miscellaneous subseries comprising 2 cu. ft. in itself. The civic organizations in which she played significant leadership roles include the National Committee of the American Civil Liberties Union (2/3 cu. ft.; 1948- 82); the Americans for Democratic Action, National Board and National Vice President (less than 1 cu. ft.; 1948-59); the National Urban League (New York), of which she was secretary for twenty-five years (approx. 1 1/2 cu. ft.; 1930-57); and the Philadelphia Fellowship Commission, of which she was secretary (approx. 1 cu. ft.; 1946-65).
STMA XII: Clubs and Social Groups. (4 cu. ft.; 1921-1981.) This series contains papers documenting sixty years of STMA's involvement in Delta Sigma Theta sorority (3 1/2 cu. ft.; 1921-1981). She was Delta's first national president and served an extended term in that capacity (n.d.). A smaller subseries (1/2 cu. ft.; 1938-81) contains papers relating to miscellaneous other social clubs.
STMA XIII: Writings, Speeches, and Publications. (1 cu. ft.; [1920s]-80.) The inventory for this series includes a large number of individual writings and speeches. The majority of items included here are speeches. Many are untitled and/or undated. The series is arranged in chronological order without subseries divisions.
STMA XIV: Certificates, Honors, and Awards. (3 2/3 cu. ft. and additional oversized objects; 1911-83.) Diplomas, law credentials, and honorary decrees (1911-1983); citations, awards and testimonials with related papers (approx. 3/4 cu. ft.; 1940-1987); trophies and plaques (2 1/2 cu. ft.; 1945- 1983). STMA received many honors between 1980 and 1982, as she moved toward retirement.
STMA XV: Memorabilia and Regalia. (less than 1 cu. ft.; n.d. and 1982.) Personal effects and academic regalia.
STMA XVI: Audio-Visual Material. (1 cu. ft.; ca. 1880-1982.) The Alexander Papers include a large number of photographic prints which have been assigned to the STMA record group primarily on the basis of subject. Many photos were found undated and unlabelled. An effort has been made to identify and date this material as specifically as possible. The subseries of photographs here is arranged in preliminary chronological order. There are many good portraits, and occasional scenes (many of them taken professionally) as well as candid and posed snapshots. The series also contains several reels of 16 mm film apparently relating to STMA's trip to India under the Auspices of the US Committee of the International Conference of Social Work in 1952.
STMA XVII: Family and Genealogy. (2 1/2 cu. ft.; 1872-1980; initial bulk date ca. 1931.) The first subseries contains a number of articles and other writings on Tanner and Mossell family history. Five subseries are devoted to Tanner forbears and relatives; five to Mossell forebears and relatives; and three to Alexander relatives. The material includes correspondence as well as various kinds of records.
STMA XVIII: Books. (2 1/2 cu. ft.; 1817-1977.) Includes a number of devotional works, primarily of the Doctrines and Disciplines of the AME Church (1817-1948); and a larger number of miscellaneous works, primarily non-fiction
The Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander Papers is organized into eighteen series: I. Biographical and Autobiographical; II. Personal Correspondence; III. General Correspondence; IV. Professional Correspondence; V. Financial Records; VI. Education; VII. Law Practice and Related Professional Papers; VIII. Legal Issues and Actions; IX. Government Service; X. Legal Organizations; XI. Civic Organizations; XII. Clubs and Social Groups; XIII. Writings, Speeches and Publications; XIV. Certificates, Honors, and Awards; XV. Memorabilia and Regalia; XVI. Audio-Visual Material; XVII. Family and Genealogy; XVIII. Books. Many of the series are organized into sub-series.
Gift of the Alexander family, 1987.
- Tanner, Benj. T. (Benjamin Tucker)
- Tanner, Henry Ossawa
- Alexander-Minter, Rae
- Brown, Mary Elizabeth Alexander
- International Conference of Social Work
- Mount Lawn Cemetery (Sharon Hill, Pa.)
- African Methodist Episcopal Church -- Form subdivision--Trials, litigation, etc.;
- Delta Sigma Theta Sorority
- United States. President's Committee on Civil Rights
- White House Conference on Aging
- National Bar Association
- Philadelphia Fellowship Commission
- Attorney and client -- United States
- African Americans -- Social life and customs -- Pennsylvania -- Philadelphia
- African Americans -- History -- 1964 -- Pennsylvania -- Philadelphia
- African Americans -- History -- 1877-1964 -- Pennsylvania -- Philadelphia
- African Americans -- Segregation -- Pennsylvania -- Philadelphia
- African Americans -- Professional education -- Pennsylvania -- Philadelphia
- Practice of law -- Pennsylvania -- Philadelphia
- African Americans -- Civil rights -- Pennsylvania -- Philadelphia
- African American women -- Pennsylvania -- Philadelphia
- Philadelphia (Pa.) -- Politics and government -- 1865-
- Philadelphia (Pa.) -- Social life and customs
- Philadelphia (Pa.) -- History
- University of Pennsylvania: University Archives and Records Center
- Finding Aid Author
- Thomas G. Potterfield, Maureen B. Spectre, and Theresa R. Snyder, assisted by Susan M. Jenkins
- Finding Aid Date
- November 2015
- Access Restrictions
Access to collections is granted in accordance with the Protocols for the University Archives and Records Center.