Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander
Philadelphia in 1898, the youngest of three children, she is a member of an old and
distinguished family. 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 physician and established the Nurses' School and
Hospital at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. Sadie Alexander's most accomplished relative on
the Mossell side was her father's brother, Dr. Nathan Francis Mossell (1856-1946),
physician and co-founder of the Frederick Douglass Hospital (founded 1895), which later
merged with Mercy Hospital to form Mercy-Douglass. 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, who was dean at Howard University. 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 the first black woman 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 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 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. She retired from practice and from public life generally in 1982.
Mrs. Alexander died in 1989.
Thank you to the archives of the University
of Pennsylvania for this article about this remarkable woman.