National Institute on Aging

A Long Overdue Tribute to the First Black Woman to Graduate from the Yale School of Music

helen-haganHelen Eugenia Hagan is thought to be the first African American woman to study at the Yale School of Music. She graduated in 1912. She later became the first African American pianist to perform at New York concert venue and was the only African American performer sent to France to entertain the troops at the end of World War I. Later, Hagan served as a member of the music faculty at what is now Tennessee State University in Nashville and was dean of music at Bishop College in Marshall, Texas.

Hagan died in 1964 and her remains were buried in an unmarked grave in the Evergreen Cemetery in New Haven. Elizabeth Foxwell, editor of the book In Their Own Words: American Women in World War I (Onconee Spirit Press, 2015) in which Hagan was featured, began a crowdfunding campaign to raise money to place a marker on Hagan’s grave. The Yale School of Music contributed to the effort. The marker was dedicated in a recent ceremony at the cemetery.

Robert Blocker, dean of the Yale School of Music, said: “Over a century ago, Helen Hagan embodied the ideals of the School of Music that are reflected in our current students today – artistic excellence, intellectual curiosity, and service to humankind. Her achievements as a woman of color at the dawn of the 20th century are remarkable.”


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  1. Elizabeth Foxwell says:

    Thanks so much for discussing the Hagan grave-marker unveiling and my anthology _In Their Own Words: American Women in World War I_. Actually, Hagan is not included in the collection, as I was unable to find a first-person account by her regarding her experiences as a musician with the “Proctor Party” in 1919 France. However, I wrote a post on Hagan for my WWI blog, which also includes links to her letter to W. E. B. Du Bois and an excerpt from her 1912 Concerto in C Minor, her only extant work:

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