In 1840, Mary Jane Patterson was born in Raleigh, North Carolina. When she was a young girl her family moved to Oberlin, Ohio. In 1857, After completing a year of preparatory coursework at Oberlin College she opted to enroll in the “Gentleman’s Course” at the college instead of enrolling into Oberlin’s two-year program for women. She attended the school for four years and received her Bachelor of Arts degree in 1862.
This accomplishment made Mary Jane Patterson the first black women in the united states to receive a B.A degree. Over the next several years she would take teachings jobs in Ohio and Philadelphia where she taught at the Institute for Colored Youth.
In 1869, she moved to Washington D.C to accept a teaching job at the newly formed Preparatory High School for Colored Youth( Which is now Paul Laurence Dunbar High School). Becoming an educator at that school was a definitive milestone in her career and a important moment in history. The Preparatory High School for Colored Youth was the first public school in the U.S for African-American children and the first public school in Washington D.C. She would later become principal of the school before resigning in 1884.
During her years as an educator, she also found time to get involved with social issues becoming one of the founding members of the Colored Women’s League of Washington, D.C.