Cromwell Day provides dedicated time and space for reflection and education about diversity, racism and inclusion. Through this work, we seek to take individual and community responsibility for our behavior with an awareness of how it furthers and disrupts patterns of structural oppression.
At the 2019 ceremony, the college announced that the event (previously known as Otelia Cromwell Day) would be renamed Cromwell Day, following the wishes of the Cromwell family and out of a desire to honor the legacies of both Otelia Cromwell 1900 and her niece Adelaide Cromwell ’40.
“Cromwell Day will celebrate both Otelia and Adelaide as two of the many African American students who thrived at Smith College,” said Floyd Cheung, vice president for equity and inclusion. “Although they were from the same family, they represent diversity even between themselves. Otelia transferred to Smith in 1898 at the age of 24, a nontraditional-aged student. Adelaide started at Smith in 1936 at the age of 16. They had different personalities, different setbacks and different successes. Otelia was the first African American graduate of Smith. Adelaide was the first African American faculty member here. Going forward, we will celebrate both Otelia and Adelaide and continue the work of inclusion that they exemplified.”
Mary Maples Dunn, then president of Smith, initiated Otelia Cromwell Day in 1989 to provide the college community an opportunity for further education and reflection about issues of diversity and racism.
“The Life and Legacy of Otelia Cromwell” was part of the college's 25th annual celebration honoring Smith’s first African American graduate.
About Otelia Cromwell
Born in Washington, D.C., in 1874, Otelia Cromwell was the first of six children born to Lucy McGuinn and John Wesley Cromwell, a journalist, educator and the first African American to practice law with the Interstate Commerce Commission. Otelia Cromwell's life and work were characterized by a deep sense of justice and responsibility toward others, a quality that was reinforced when her mother died in 1886 when Otelia was 12, leaving her in charge of her younger siblings.
After graduating from the Miner Normal School, Otelia Cromwell taught in the Washington, D.C., public schools for several years. She transferred to Smith College in 1898 and graduated in 1900. She returned to teaching for a number of years and then resumed her education, receiving a master of arts from Columbia University and a doctorate from Yale University in 1926; Cromwell was the first African American woman to receive a Yale doctorate. She soon became professor and chair of the department of English language and literature at Miner Teachers College in Washington, D.C.
Cromwell remained at Miner Teachers College until her retirement in 1944. A distinguished scholar and teacher, she authored three books and numerous articles including Readings From Negro Authors, for Schools and Colleges, the result of collaboration with Eva B. Dykes and Lorenzo Dow Turner. It was one of the first collections of its kind. She received an honorary degree from Smith College in 1950.
After her retirement from teaching, Cromwell accomplished her most significant scholarly work, The Life of Lucretia Mott, the Quaker abolitionist and women's rights activist. It was published in 1958 by Harvard University Press and continues to be cited by contemporary scholars. Cromwell passed away in 1972 at the age of 98.
About Adelaide Cromwell
Adelaide Cromwell ’40 was the first African American professor appointed at Smith. After teaching at the college, she served for more than 30 years on the sociology faculty at Boston University. There she co-founded the African studies program in 1953 and founded the Afro-American studies program in 1969, which was the first graduate program in the country in that field.
Cromwell was also a leader and activist in Africa, convening the first conference of West African social workers in Ghana in 1960, and serving on a commission to assess the state of higher education in what was then called the Belgian Congo. A member of the executive council of the American Society of African Culture, the American Negro Leadership Conference in Africa and the advisory council on Voluntary Foreign Aid, among others, she also maintained active membership in the Council on Foreign Relations and a number of professional organizations.
She is the author of several books, including Unveiled Voices, Unvarnished Memories: The Cromwell Family and Slavery and Segregation, 1692–1972, and An African Victorian Feminist: The Life and Times of Adelaide Smith Casely Hayford, 1868–1960.
Cromwell earned a master's degree in sociology from the University of Pennsylvania and a doctorate in sociology from Radcliffe College. A recipient of the Smith Medal in 1971 and an honorary degree in 2015, she was the niece of Otelia Cromwell, class of 1900. Adelaide Cromwell passed away in 2019 at the age of 99.