CAS researcher shares the untold stories of historical women educators

CAS researcher shares the untold stories of historical women educators

Department of History Assistant Professor Leigh Soares, an expert in 19th and 20th century African American history, focuses her work on Black women leaders in higher education, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, as well as the U.S. South and the Reconstruction era.

Soares recently presented a lecture for the virtual brown bag series hosted by MSU’s Gender Studies program as part of the program’s signature event—the Women’s History Month celebration held annually in March.

Soares’ lecture, “Forgotten Founders: Black Women Leaders in Higher Education,” reflects years of study into the erasure of Black women’s leadership in public higher education. Soares focused her talk on Olivia A. Davidson, an educator who played an integral part in the founding of Tuskegee Institute, serving as an assistant principle, educator and fundraiser for Tuskegee Normal School.

“Although her contemporaries acknowledged that the early growth of Tuskegee was as much her legacy as it was Booker T. Washington’s, Davidson’s name has since receded from public memory. This is partially a problem of the archives, since surviving university records primarily highlight the role of presidents, like Booker T. Washington. But it also reflects who is asking the historical questions, who is writing these stories, and where we expect to find leaders when we look to the past,” Soares said.

Her current book manuscript, “Cradles of Citizenship: Public Black Colleges and Political Engagement from Reconstruction to Jim Crow,” focuses on how Black public colleges, early on and well into the 20th century, served as incubators for Black political engagement and leadership development.

Through her research, Soares brings to the forefront Davidson’s and other Black women’s important contributions to create a more equitable and accurate account of Black engagement with education and politics throughout American history.

MSU’s College of Arts and Sciences includes more than 5,000 students, 323 full-time faculty members, nine doctoral programs, 14 master’s programs, and 27 undergraduate academic majors offered in 14 departments.  MSU is classified by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education as a “Very High Research Activity” doctoral university, the highest level of research activity in the country.  MSU is one of only 120 schools to hold the designation. For more details about the College of Arts and Sciences, visit

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