By TONIA HILL
Georgiana Rose Simpson was posthumously honored last night at the University of Chicago (U. of C.), nearly 100 years after she became one of the first African-American women in the United States to receive a doctorate from a university.
A bronze bust was unveiled in Dr. Simpson’s honor on Tuesday evening, Nov. 28, at U. of C., where Simpson earned a bachelor’s degree in 1911 and a Ph.D. in 1921.
Asya Akca and Shae Omonijo, two undergraduate students at the U. of C., led the charge in the effort to honor Simpson.
The two students, learned of Simpson’s triumphs and struggles while researching the history of housing at the university, they launched a campaign, the Monumental Woman’s Project (MWP) and raised $50,000 for the completion of the bust.
What interested Akca and Omonijo however, was the lack of images of women on the campus.
“Too often black women’s stories are neglected, untold or hidden,” Omonijo said. “We are often the footnotes in other people’s stories.”
MWP is dedicated to honoring influential women’s accomplishments.
“Dr. Georgiana Rose Simpson’s (AB 1911, AM’20 Ph.D. ’21) life and scholarship have paved the way for women, especially women of color, across all academic disciplines,” said MWP in a written statement.
Simpson was born in 1866 in Washington D.C. to David and Catherine Simpson.
In 1885, she became an elementary school teacher. She traveled abroad to Germany to study the language and later became an instructor in German at M Street High School; it was later known as Dunbar High School in Washington D.C.
She experienced racism upon arrival at U. of C.’s in 1907 when she began her undergraduate coursework.
“She [Simpson] was housed in Green Hall until racism reared its ugly head and several white female residents protested Simpson being allowed to live in their dorm and a number of them moved out in protest,” said Loann J. Honesty King, Central Region and Theta Omega Chapter Historian of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated.
At the time, the Head of Green residence Hall and the Dean of Women decided that Simpson could stay on campus in the dorms. The U. of C. president at the time, Harry Pratt Judson overruled the decision and asked Simpson to find housing off campus, which she did.
Simpson completed coursework through correspondence and summer courses she was awarded her bachelor’s degree in 1911. In 1917, she returned to U. of C. to begin her graduate work.
Her doctoral dissertation was titled, “Herder’s Conception of Das Volk” and in 1921 she was awarded a doctorate in German Philology at the age of 55.
During her time at U. of C. Simpson was initiated into the Beta Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Members of the sorority were present at the presentation on Tuesday night to honor Simpson’s accomplishments.
After receiving her doctorate, Simpson returned to her hometown and continued her work as a teacher in modern languages at Dunbar High School. In 1931, she became a professor at Howard University in Washington, D.C.
She retired from her position at Howard in 1939. She came to know other influential African American scholars such as W.E.B. Dubois, Frederick Douglass, Helen Pitts Douglass, and Carter G. Woodson.
Simpson died on January 27, 1944. She was 78. She never married or had children, which is another reason why Akca and Omonijo wanted to commemorate Simpson’s achievements.
The bronze bust is situated in front of Mandel Hall in the Reynolds Club, 1131 E 57th St., an area that was once reserved for male students.
Local artist Preston Jackson, professor emeritus of sculpture at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, was commissioned to create the bust.
Jackson works primarily in bronze, and his work is known for its social significance and emphasis on the multicultural experience of life in Chicago and his concern for “those for whom social acceptance is difficult,” according to his website.
“I urge everyone here tonight to think not only about monuments that should be removed across our nation but [to think] also about those that still need to be put up,” Akca said.