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Tate, Merze (1905–) - European and U.S. Diplomatic History

university college howard award

Merze Tate was born February 6, 1905, in central Michigan, the daughter and granddaughter of black pioneers. By the time she was five years old, a one-room schoolhouse had been built less than a quarter mile from her home. After elementary school she attended Blanchard High School, which was four miles from home. Tate walked each way, sometimes wading in snow up to her hips or water up to her ankles. Tate was the only black student and the valedictorian of her tenth grade class, the last class she could complete at the school, which was destroyed by fire. Tate completed high school in Battle Creek, then enrolled at Western Michigan Teachers College, now Western Michigan University. She graduated in 1927, with the highest scholastic record at the college and as the first “colored” American at Western Michigan College to be awarded a bachelor of arts degree.

Despite her excellent academic record, racism kept Merze Tate from securing a job: blacks were prevented from teaching in Michigan’s secondary schools. Several administrators at the college loaned Tate money to secure employment outside the state. She took a position at the new Crispus Attucks High School in Indianapolis, where she taught for five years. While there she attended summer sessions at Columbia University, earning a master’s degree at Teachers College in 1930. In 1932 she matriculated at Oxford University, the first African-American woman to do so, and she earned a bachelor’s degree there in 1935. After a summer session at Harvard, Tate decided to pursue graduate study there. She became the first African-American woman to receive the Harvard University and Radcliffe College Ph.D. degree in government.

Tate’s first academic appointment after completing the Ph.D. was as dean of women and associate professor of political science at Morgan State University. After a year at Morgan, she joined the history department at Howard University. She and Caroline Ware, also appointed that year, were the first female members of Howard University’s department of history. She retired from the faculty at Howard in 1977 after a very distinguished career.

During the 1940s, Tate published her first two books, The Disarmament Illusion: The Movement for a Limitation of Armaments to 1907 and The United States and Armaments , both of which have been widely consulted for their insights on armaments and on disarmament. Her research through the late 1950s and 1960s focused on the expansion and rivalry of the Great Powers in the Pacific. She received grants from the American Council of Learned Societies,the Rockefeller Foundation, the Washington Evening Star , and Howard University. As a result of her research in the United States and in England, France, West Germany, Fiji, New Zealand, and Australia, she completed two books and thirty scholarly articles on diplomatic history. One of these books, The United States and the Hawaiian Kingdom: A Political History , was a best-seller for Yale University Press during 1965 and 1966. The second, Hawaii: Reciprocity or Annexation , was also considered a major contribution to the field. In 1973 twenty-seven of her articles on Pacific affairs were published in one book, Diplomacy in the Pacific . Tate continues to write through her retirement, having now published five books and fifty scholarly articles.

Merze Tate has served as a member of the National Advisory Board of the W.E.B. DuBois Institute at Harvard University and on the Advisory Committee on Black Women’s Oral History for the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women at Radcliffe College. She has received dozens of awards, including the National Urban League Achievement Award, the Detroit Mayor’s Award of Merit, the American Black Artist’s Pioneer Award, and the Radcliffe College Alumnae Achievement Award. She also received the tenth annual national Distinguished Alumnus Award of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. For this award, Tate was chosen from among nominees from roughly 340 state colleges and universities.

Merze Tate has traveled extensively, for professional and personal reasons. She has traveled around the world twice, has visited eleven countries in Africa, and has traveled to or through Europe eight times. Among her other interests are cooking, photography, and contract bridge. She is also an inventor who holds two patents, one of which is for an ice cream maker. She has also worked to see that others succeed; Tate, who has donated generously to individual students, reports that none of these students has defaulted on their loans or dropped out of school. There is a Merze Tate Fellowship for the Mary Graham Bunting Institute at Radcliffe College, a Merze Tate Scholarship at Western Michigan University, and a Merze Tate Fund at Howard University. She has received honorary degrees from several colleges and universities, including Western Michigan University, Morgan State University, Lincoln University, and Bowie State College.

Although Merze Tate no longer teaches, she is not forgotten at Howard University, especially by the women who have come after her. Mary Frances Berry was among Tate’s students. The following quote from Dean Annette Eaton’s letter honoring Tate when she was still at Howard continues to resonate:

Rarely do those in the academic world have the opportunity to know as a colleague a truly great, or truly world-renowned scholar. When that precious opportunity is given to the women on a campus by one of their own, it provides the inspiration, the strength, and the courage to continue the fight against the prevailing atmosphere of paternalism…. This is what you mean to Howard University and especially to its women. You are the model for us to copy, not just to gaze upon. You are the standard to be kept before our eyes as we shape our own careers.

Taussig, Helen (Brooke) [next] [back] Tasso, Torquato (1544–1595) - BIOGRAPHY, CRITICAL RECEPTION

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