The Packer Collegiate Institute: A Story of Education in Brooklyn

Mary White Ovington

Mary White Ovington Class of 1891

Mary White Ovington was a suffragist, author, and civil rights activist, perhaps best known for cofounding the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

Ovington was born in Brooklyn in 1865 and was educated at The Packer Collegiate Institute. She graduated from Packer in 1891 and went on to Radcliffe College, but could not afford to finish her education.

Ovington devoted her life to social reform, and was largely influenced by her Unitarian upbringing, as well as her parents, who both supported the causes of abolition and woman’s suffrage.

In 1903, moved by a speech by Booker T. Washington, Ovington focused her energies on the cause of civil rights for African Americans. She initially concentrated on employment and housing reform, two major issues affecting black New Yorkers. Her research resulted in the 1911 publication of Half a Man: The Status of the Negro in New York.

In 1909, Ovington—along with a number of like-minded individuals, including Ida B. Wells and W.E.B. DuBois—helped to found the NAACP. Ovington served as the group’s first executive secretary, and also went on to serve as a chair and board member.

Ovington retired from the NAACP in 1947. She died in 1951.