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Part Three University & Beyond

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 of Omaha Graduates 51”). “Miss Williams has made an excellent record in scholarship during her entire university course and is the first African American student to receive her four-year degree at the Omaha University,” the front-page article in The Monitor reads. “She expects to engage in teaching” (18).

However, being hired as a teacher would not be easy. The month before Williams’s graduation from Omaha University, The Monitor had run a series of three editorials pushing for the employment by the Omaha Public Schools of the young African American women who were qualified to be teachers, for according to The Monitor, at that time there were no African American public school teachers in Omaha (“Concerning Teachers”). Then, on June 13, The Monitor contained another editorial claiming those advocating the hiring of African American teachers were “not discouraged” and asking once again that qualified applicants be hired regardless of their race. In this article, Dorothy Williams is named as one of the two qualified applicants (“Not Discouraged”).

Reverend Williams died in 1934 after 42 years with St. Philip, and Lucy stayed in Omaha with their son Worthington. By this time, Dorothy and her sister, Catherine, had left home, Catherine also a graduate of Omaha University. Dorothy had married Ottis Isaac, a professor at Langston University in Tulsa, Oklahoma (Dixon). In an interview, Lucy proudly noted that “Dorothy was the first Negro to graduate from the Omaha University, completing a four-year course” (qtd. in Dixon). And though she did not teach, Dorothy found work as a librarian until her death in October of 1963.

Sadly, little information is available regarding Dorothy’s life after college. One cannot know if Dorothy Williams served as inspiration for other young people, but there certainly were others who followed in her footsteps. By becoming the first four-year African American graduate of Omaha University, Dorothy Williams helped start African Americans in Omaha along the slow road toward integration and acceptance.