Dorothy Williams came from a family of firsts. Her mother was the first African-American teacher in the Omaha Public School system; her father was the first president of the Omaha NAACP; and, in 1924, Williams herself became the first four-year African American graduate of Omaha University, now the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO). Although little is known about Williams’s time at the University, all the information about the atmosphere in which Williams grew up points to the conclusion that she was truly, as the inscription next to her university yearbook picture reads, “A character molded by high ideals.”
Dorothy Williams was born in Nebraska on October 26, 1902 to the Reverend John Albert Williams and his wife, Lucinda Gamble. She was the eldest of three children, with a younger sister, Catherine, and brother, Worthington. Both of her parents were notable in their own rights, and it is easy to see where Dorothy came by her determination. Dorothy’s mother, Lucinda (usually called Lucy), was an impressive woman.
Lucy’s father, William Gamble, moved from Alabama to Lincoln, Nebraska in 1870, marrying Lucy’s mother in 1873. William started a barbershop in Omaha, which catered to white trade only. This selectivity allowed Mr. Gamble to earn enough money to allow Lucy not only to graduate from Omaha High School in 1893 but also to attend the Normal Training school run by the Board of Education to obtain teacher training (Dixon).
Although many African Americans
The era in which Dorothy Williams grew up in Omaha was one in which women, black and white, were limited in their choices of careers. For Dorothy to grow up with parents who advocated progressive views regarding women was significant. Although The Monitor did not address the issue of women’s careers in particular, it did express sentiments in support of women participating in society. Reverend Williams included items such as an article by Francis J. Grimke on the front page that stated, “The average man is in no sense superior to the average woman, either in point of intelligence, or of character” (“The Logic of Woman Suffrage”). He also included brief dispatches by Lucille Skaggs about young women across the country excelling academically at their respective colleges and universities, as well as a section identifying the triumphs and mistakes of
Unfortunately, there is not much information to be found about Dorothy William’s time at the University. Her 1923 yearbook picture is accompanied by the inscription, “A diligent student and a capable teacher, whose pleasant smile and cheery disposition quickly won the hearts of all her tiny pupils.” Besides a few mentions of her on the society page (receiving a guest from Iowa and holding a meeting of the “Smarter Set Society” at her home), Dorothy Williams herself does not appear very much in The Monitor until May 1924, the month of her graduation from Omaha University. Then, possibly due to her proud father’s position as editor, her picture appears on the front page under the headline “Will Graduate From University of Omaha.”
Fifty-one students graduated that May, and among them was Williams, the recipient of a Bachelor of Arts degree (“University