Edna Hall Brown, UVM’s first Black female grad

Edna Hall Brown is the first recorded Black woman to graduate from UVM, according to an April 2021 article by Ben Yousey-Hindes, assistant vice president for communications and stewardship at the UVM Foundation.

Brown graduated in June 1930 with a Bachelor of Science in education, according to documents from Special Collections. Little information is known about her, Yousey-Hindes said.

UVM’s records don’t indicate whether other Black women graduated from the University before Brown, because they could’ve been white-passing, said Beverly Colston, director of the Mosaic Center for Students of Color.

“UVM, like all institutions, looks very similar to a country that has not done a good job with its history,” Colston said. “Certainly not with racial reckoning.”

More is lost in the historical record the more marginalized you are, Colston said.

Having a statue or some physical recognition of her would be a step towards showing representation of women of color, Black women in particular, on campus which would in turn help them feel like they belonged, senior Zyakkiriah Rhoden said.

“It would at least help me know that I have a place on UVM’s campus even though it doesn’t feel like that all the time,” Rhoden said. “The constant marginalization of certain groups on campus made us a lot more behind than a lot of other schools.”

Rhoden believes the reason people hear so much more about Andrew Harris than they do about Brown is because Black women face even deeper discrimination than Black men in many ways, she said.

Courtesy of Special Collections at UVM Libraries

“The education that UVM is giving me on the people that look like me from the past isn’t necessarily the education I want to receive,” Rhoden said. “Not to have heard more about [Brown] is just disappointing.”

Brown was born and raised in Baltimore, but obtained a high school education at St. Johnsbury Academy in Vermont and then continued her education at UVM. Her reasons for moving to Vermont for school remain a mystery, Yousey-Hindes said.

A student at UVM initially brought up the question of the first Black woman to graduate from UVM to the Silver Special Collections Library a few years ago, said Prudence Doherty, public service librarian in Special Collections.

“It was kind of flipping pages trying to see if we could identify somebody, once we had her name, we undertook some research to find out more about her,” Doherty said.

Multiple librarians pieced together Brown’s story, Doherty said. These efforts also included someone in Middlebury building on the story and then another faculty member after that.

UVM gives a scholarship to minority students annually in Brown’s name, according to Yousey-Hindes’ article. Brown left the money to UVM when she died in 2000.

Two recent recipients of the scholarship include Emily Zahran ‘21 and Maya Dizack ‘20, according to the article.

Brown enjoyed gardening, reading, doing crossword puzzles, and playing pinochle and bridge, according to an article from the UVM Foundation. She also loved to travel. She spent the summer after graduating from UVM traveling with her mother.

After graduating from UVM, Brown went on to earn her master’s from Columbia University in 1932 and became a science teacher, moving back to Baltimore, according to the UVM Foundation article.


The print version of this story had a factual error in the headline. Edna Hall Brown is UVM’s first Black female graduate.