The Northern Almanac Ep. 7 - 'Breaking New Ground'

Mar 18, 2020

Welcome to The Northern Almanac, a WNIJ living history project coinciding with NIU's 125th anniversary. I'm Clint Cargile.

Fanny Ruth Patterson from Hinckley, Illinois was the first African-American student to graduate from Northern. When she completed her two year degree in 1915, President John Cook wrote her a letter of reccomendation to the St. Louis school system where she had applied for a teaching job.

Fanny Ruth Patterson in 1915

"She is a most excellent and interesting young woman," Cook wrote, "and she has had the entire confidence of everybody with whom she has worked." He reccomended her for a position teaching English and history.

The first African-American male graduate was three sport athelete Elzie Cooper of Rochelle, Illinois. He played football, basketball, and baseball during the 1930's. He lettered in all three and was a two time Northern Athletics Hall of Fame inductee. He also worked as a football student coach under the legendary Chick Evans.

Fanny Patterson and Elzie Cooper would no doubt be suprised to learn that a century after their time at Northern, their alma matter boasts a overall minority student enrollment of nearly 50 percent.