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Mamie L. Williams

Mamie Williams photo, 1944

African American educator.  Born: December 12, 1894, Greenwood, South Carolina.  Died: December 31, 1986,  Topeka, Kansas.

Mamie Luella Williams, prominent educator and a resident of Topeka, Kansas, was born in Greenwood, South Carolina on 12 December 1894. The Williams family moved to Topeka in 1899 and in 1900 purchased a home on Quincy Street. Mamie never left Quincy Street and her life there was the subject of a 1976 TV special, 75 years on Quincy Street.

Williams received her education at Highland Park School, Garfield School, and Topeka High School, where she graduated at the age of sixteen.  She was one of three African American girls who graduated that year.  She went on to Washburn University, graduating with honors in mathematics and German in 1915 as the only African American student in her graduating class.

Upon graduation, she began her teaching career at Lane College in Jackson, Mississippi. With the aid of her father, she was hired by the Topeka Public School System in 1918 where she would teach for the next 42 years until her retirement in 1960.

During the summer months she returned to Lane College as professor of education in 1925, taught at Texas College in 1928-1930, and spent four summers at Columbia University in New York where she earned a "Teacher of Education” diploma in 1924.  In 1935, she served as the secretary of the Interstate Literary Society.

Her tenure with the Topeka Public School System included teaching 25-1/2 years at Buchanan School before she was transferred to Washington School as Assistant Principal in 1943. She later became principal of both Washington and Monroe Schools before her retirement. While serving as principal, Ms. Williams continued to carry her regular teaching load yet received no pay increase for the title of principal. In 1956 Mamie traveled around the world with the National Education Association promoting educational values and gathering information for presentations to students and local groups.

Photograph of Mamie Williams with her students, 1920sAfter retiring from the Topeka School System, Mamie remained active in church and community affairs. In 1965 she was appointed to the Kansas Commission on the Status of Women, served as a delegate to the 1971 White House Conference on Aging, and was active on the Senior Citizens Advisory Council for the Republican Party for Kansas, 1974-1976.

Other highlights of her career included the creation of the AAUW Mamie L. Williams Fellowship Award at Washburn University in 1968, receiving the Washburn University Distinguished Service Award in 1973, and receiving an honorary doctorate in mathematics from Washburn in 1982.

Williams encouraged her students to "be a miracle." She also loved inspirational quotations. One of her favorites was : “Life is infinitely rich in fine and adequate compensation. Never a door is shut but several windows are opened.”

On 31 December 1986, Ms. Williams died at a Topeka convalescent home. She
was 92.

In the fall of 1996, Williams Science and Fine Arts Elementary Magnet School,
named in honor of Ms. Williams, opened it doors at 1301 S.E. Monroe, Topeka, Kansas.

Entry: Williams, Mamie L.

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: April 2010

Date Modified: July 2012

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.