Photo via news.brown.edu
A building at Brown University will be renamed in honor of their first Black man and woman graduates, Inman Edward Page and Ethel Tremaine Robinson. The former J. Walter Wilson building will be renamed Page-Robinson Hall as of the Spring 2019 semester.
“We wanted a building at the heart of campus that every student, faculty member and staff member uses on a regular basis,” said Brown University President, Christina Paxson. “And one that serves as a center of classroom activity, teaching and learning — the core of the Brown experience. Together, these two pioneers embodied the faith in learning, knowledge and understanding that has animated Brown for generations.”
Inman Edward Page, along with one other male classmate, graduated from Brown in 1877 as the first two Black graduates from the Ivy League institution. Twenty-eight years later in 1905, Ethel Tremaine Robinson became the first Black woman to graduate from Brown. Both scholars excelled both inside and outside of the classroom. Page was selected as one of the Commencement speakers for his class where he delivered a speech that was formally recognized in the Providence Journal. Robinson graduated with honors with a degree in philosophy and even won a Prize Essay competition. Post-graduation from Brown, both Page and Robinson became educators and dedicated their lives to fostering the educational advancement of collegiate Black students.
Page was born into slavery in Virginia. He saw education as his opportunity to build a better life for himself and also where he would build a legacy of leadership, persistence, and passion for the pursuit of higher education. He led four historically black colleges and universities during his extensive career, including: the Agricultural and Normal University (now Langston University), Western Baptist College in Missouri, Roger Williams University in Tennessee, and Lincoln Institute in Missouri. His dedication to education was a life-long commitment, even leading him to serve as principal of Frederick Douglass High School in Oklahoma City while in his 70’s. Page passed away in 1935 at the age of 82.
While Robinson’s life hasn’t been as well documented as Page’s life, it is known that her accomplishment inspired numerous black women that came to Brown after her, including her younger sister Cora. Cora followed in her sister’s footsteps and also graduated from Brown in 1909. After graduating from Brown she returned to her home in Washington, D.C. to teach English and literature at Howard University. While there, she mentored a young woman named Ethel Hedgeman Lyle who became one of the most influential founders of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated in 1908. After leaving Howard University, Robinson married and moved to France. Upon her husband’s death, she returned to Providence where her younger sisters Cora’s family still resided.
“We have history here—a notable history,” said Brown alumna and trustee for the Inman Page Black Alumni Council, McLeod Bailey. “And it is something that should be celebrated and recognized by the whole community. By renaming this building, Brown is embracing us as a part of its official narrative.”