By Clare M. Sheridan, Librarian (retired), American Textile History Museum, Lowell, MA

Quander, Nellie M.: educator and first Supreme Basileus (president) of Alpha Kappa Alpha (Jan.1913-Dec.1919), the first Greek-letter sorority established by and for African American college women. Participated in the Woman Suffrage Parade of March 3, 1913.

Nellie May Quander, a lifelong advocate of women's rights, particularly the rights of black women, came from a prominent African American family. The name Quander is derived from a Ghanaian name (Amkwandoh). The name was shortened to Guan-do or Quando and eventually evolved into Quander. According to Rohulamin Quander, President of the Quander Historical and Educational Society, the family has been present in Charles County, Maryland from the late 1670s and is considered to have one of the longest documented records of a free black family in the United States, specifically in Maryland and Virginia. Nellie Quander's parents were John Pierson Quander and Hannah Bruce Ford Quander. John was a direct descendant of Nancy and Charles Quander, Nancy having been among the slaves freed by George Washington in his last will and testament. Hannah Bruce Ford Quander was a direct descendant of West Ford, the slave-born putative son of Bushrod Washington, nephew of George Washington. It is said that West Ford's personal recollections provided the Mount Vernon Ladies Association with details of the interior decoration of the Mount Vernon Plantation when the Association purchased it in the 1850s.

Nellie Quander was born February 11, 1880, in Washington, DC, the fifth of nine children, and died at her home in the same city on September 24, 1961, at age 81. She is buried at the Lincoln Memorial Cemetery in Suitland, Maryland (Memorial ID 145243376). Quander never married, and her immediate surviving relatives at the time of her death were her sister, Susie R. Quander, and several nephews. Susie was secretary from 1926 to 1938 to Carter Woodson, founder of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (now the Association for the Study of African American Life and History) and creator of Negro History Week (now Black History Month). Nellie Quander was educated in Washington, DC, public schools and at the Miner Normal School (formerly the Normal School for Colored Girls, established in 1851) and graduated with honors in 1900. She was appointed to the Garrison Elementary School in Washington, DC, in 1901 where she taught first and second grades. She taught at the elementary level for twenty years (1901-1921) before moving on to the junior high school level. For thirty years, Quander taught social studies at the Robert G. Shaw Junior High School in Washington, DC. She retired from the school system on Jan. 31, 1950.

Quander enrolled in 1910 at Howard University while continuing to work as a teacher. In June 1912, she graduated magna cum laude in two years at the age of thirty-two with a BA in history, economics and political science. In 1914-15, Quander took a year's leave of absence from teaching and acquired an MA in political science from Columbia University's Washington, DC, extension campus. Her thesis title was: A Study of Insurance Among Negroes in the State of Virginia. In 1916-17, she took another leave of absence to serve as special field agent for the Children's Bureau of the Dept. of Labor. Her assignment was to study the social and economic conditions among the mentally handicapped of New Castle County, Delaware. In 1936, she obtained a diploma in economics from Uppsala University in Sweden. While in Europe that year, she attended the International Conference on Social Work held in London. In addition to teaching summer school, she also earned a certificate of social work from New York University (date unknown) and studied economics for two summers at the University of Washington in Washington State (date unknown).

Quander belonged to multiple organizations throughout her life. She organized the first “school safety patrol boy unit” (crossing guards) in the Colored Division of the Washington, DC, public schools while teaching at Shaw Junior High School and continued as mentor and sponsor for the next 25 years; the American Automobile Assn. honored her for her work. She was a founding member of the Afro-American History Story Telling Association and was active in the Readers Research Club, an organization founded to promote intellectual growth among women. Quander was the first woman trustee and secretary of the Board of Trustees of Lincoln Temple Memorial Church (Congregational) and director of the Miner Community Center which served women and children. She also served as a delegate from the Washington, DC, teachers union to the Women's Trade Union League. Her association with the YWCA was extensive: she served as a member of the board of directors of the Phillis Wheatley YWCA in Washington, DC, and chair of their Young Women's Dept. and Business Professional and Industrial Committee as well as president of their Center for Racial Justice. In addition, she was Special Industrial Field Secretary from Washington, DC, to the national YWCA (to improve conditions of women in the workplace) and a member of the Women's War Work Council of the national YWCA (to support troops with sites for rest and recreation). In the summer of 1918, she was assigned by the Council to conduct a survey of the social and economic conditions affecting Negro women in Detroit. She was also a member of the NAACP, the National Association of Colored Women and the Republican Party. However, the activity dearest to her heart was her association with Alpha Kappa Alpha (AKA), the first Greek-letter sorority established for African American college women. She remained an active member until her death in 1961.

Ethel Hedgemon (aka Hedgeman) Lyle founded Alpha Kappa Alpha on the campus of Howard University on January 15, 1908. Nellie Quander was inducted into the Alpha Chapter of the sorority in early 1910 and was elected its president for two terms from 1911 through 1912. After her graduation in 1912, she became the chapter's graduate advisor. The preamble of AKA's Constitution, written by Quander, states its goals: “We, as college women, being aware of the increasing complexity of women's problems, especially those of Negro women . . . do therefore organize this Sorority in order to cultivate and encourage high scholastic and ethical standards, improve the social stature of the race, promote unity and friendship among college women, and keep alive within graduates an interest in college life and progressive movement emanating there from.”

By the fall of 1912, all of the founders and the first initiates had graduated including Nellie Quander. This caused a major crisis in the organization. A group of AKA undergraduate members (or sorors) who were by now the presiding officers in the sorority, proposed a complete overhaul of AKA. Their motives were several, but the primary justification seems to have been that they “wanted more than just a social group” and to involve the sorority in greater social activism and public service beyond the Howard campus. It should be remembered that the decade from 1910 to 1920 was one of great political and social agitation that included the suffrage movement. As a recent president, Quander felt betrayed, stating that the dissidents' intentions were “not to extend the work of the AKA sorority; but rather, its aim was to shatter it to bits . . . new name, new colors, new symbols, and new motto—everything new.” Added to this, the undergraduates suggested that AKA graduates would be entitled to “honorary” membership, a term that Quander could only interpret as dismissive of her role and that of other graduates. Despite Quander's objections, all twenty-two undergraduates left AKA to form a new sorority, Delta Sigma Theta, founded on Jan. 13, 1913. Quander is quoted as saying that the dissidents “just did not understand what a sorority should stand for” and it compelled her to bolster undergraduate membership, create chapters on other campuses, and seek charter recognition by Howard. She also quickly incorporated AKA on January 29, 1913. Quander's initiatives saved and revived AKA and expanded its mission to include greater political and social engagement within the African American and women's communities. The two sororities embarked on often biting campus rivalry, academically,

socially, and politically. Today, AKA and DST are thriving sororities. Each has its own particular ethos and can be competitive but the hard feelings of the early days have mostly disappeared. Both have bold missions to serve the black community that are reflected in their published histories, conferences, and websites.

In January 1913, Nellie Quander was elected from the Alpha Chapter at Howard as AKA's first national Basileus (later Supreme Basileus), an equivalent of president or presiding officer. She held the position until December 1919 when she resigned. While in office, she instituted early policies and guidelines; presided over the first two national conventions (Boules) in 1918 and 1919; appointed deputies, and chartered many new chapters. She personally funded the first AKA Sorority Academic Prize to Howard's highest ranking senior in the School of Liberal Arts (many winners were from DST). Later, she was the first director of the North Atlantic Region of AKA. By 1923, AKA had established twenty-eight chapters (both undergraduate and graduate) throughout the country. Chapters were founded on the campuses of historically black colleges as well as at predominately white colleges and universities and today can boast of many international chapters. National headquarters were originally in Washington, DC, but moved to Chicago in 1920 and remains there. In 1930, AKA created the Nellie May Quander Essay, a prize for the best essay on the status of Negro labor. In 1984, the Alpha Chapter alumnae endowed the Nellie Quander Scholarship Fund with a $100,000 donation to Howard University. Also named for Quander by AKA, The Nellie Quander Leadership Institute offers a twelve- month program that provides graduate and undergraduate sorority sisters of the North Atlantic Region of AKA with leadership skills and an opportunity to promote sisterhood. In 2008, AKA donated $1 million to Howard University for the purpose of preserving the sorority's legacy through an endowed scholarship in the name of AKA's first national president, Nellie Quander. The donation is also intended to maintain AKA's archives housed at the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center at Howard. Today AKA has approximately 283,000 members. Well known sorors include Sonia Sanchez, Toni Morrison, Althea Gibson, Edwidge Danticat, Wanda Sykes, Phylicia Rashad, etc.; honorary members include Jane Addams, Eleanor Roosevelt, Maya Angelou, Alice Walker, Ella Fitzgerald, Coretta Scott King, Rosa Parks, and Michelle Obama among many others.

Quander was an active supporter of woman suffrage along with many other African American women who belonged to black suffrage clubs. They saw the vote as a way to improve their communities and their lives. The massive suffrage parade in Washington, DC, on March 3, 1913, officially known as the Woman Suffrage Procession, is a case in point. Calling for a constitutional amendment, the parade was organized by Alice Paul for the National American Women Suffrage Association (NAWSA) the day before Woodrow Wilson's inauguration. The parade down Pennsylvania Ave. attracted approximately 8,000 marchers and over half a million onlookers, many in town for the inauguration. Initially Paul and NAWSA supported the participation of black women, but Paul and many in NAWSA ultimately succumbed to the subtle and not-so-subtle racism of their own members who feared that Southern white suffragists might threaten to withdraw if African American women were allowed to march. Ironically, in the year that marked the 50th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, organizers including Paul, devised dubious compromises that tarnished their reputations. They could not publicly bar black women from the parade but they could quietly discourage them. Those who refused to be discouraged from participating could be segregated either at the end of the parade, or at the end of their state delegation, or isolated in some other manner. There was resistance from black and many white delegates. Ultimately, black women simply ignored any restrictions with no dire consequences, either breaking rank once the parade had begun or simply marching from the start of the parade within their respective state delegation or their academic, professional, or labor affiliation. A good example is that of Ida B. Wells-Barnett who was told at the last minute that she could not march with the Illinois delegation but quietly slipped out of the crowd to join the state contingent with no objections. Physical

and verbal abuse by the often unruly and hostile onlookers coupled with possible racist attacks, could easily have kept a black woman from participating and many probably stayed away. In fact, at least 100 marchers were hospitalized, although we do not know if any black women were among them. Carrie Clifford, writing in W.E.B. Du Bois' TheCrisis of April 1913, listed the following black participants: one artist; six college women; one teacher; one musician; two professional women; one in the Illinois delegation (Wells-Barnett); one in the Michigan delegation (she carried the banner); 25 in the Howard University delegation in caps and gowns; three homemakers, one of whom carried the New York banner; one trained nurse; and “an old mammy” brought down by the Delaware delegation. She reported that they received “no worse treatment from bystanders than was accorded white women. In spite of the apparent reluctance of the local suffrage committee to encourage the colored women to participate, and in spite of the conflicting rumors that were circulated and which disheartened many of the colored women from taking part, they are to be congratulated that so many of them had the courage of their convictions and that they made such an admirable showing in the first great national parade.” Writing on the editorial page of the May 1913 issue, Du Bois said, “There seems to be no doubt but that the attempt to draw the color line in the woman's suffrage movement has received a severe and, let us hope, final setback. Both at Washington and St. Louis the right of the black woman to vote and strive for a vote was openly recognized. There was, to be sure, a struggle in both cases and the forces of caste are not demoralized; they are, however, beaten at present, and a great and good cause can go forward with unbedraggled skirts. Let every black man and woman fight for the new democracy which knows no race or sex.”

As for the women of Howard, the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority made it quite clear that they intended to march in the parade with their banner as its first public act, urged on by Mary Church Terrell, founder and President of the National Association of Colored Women and one of the founders of the NAACP. Some sources have them marching within the college women's contingent in their caps and gowns while others describe them as breaking rank from within a segregated group. We know less about AKA and Nellie Quander's participation chiefly because many of Quander's papers, reports, and diaries were discarded by her estate. What we do know is that she wrote twice, as president of AKA, to Alice Paul on February 15 and February 17, 1913, copies appearing in the papers of Alice Paul's National Woman's Party:

Dear Madam,

Fearing that a letter which I sent you has gone astray, I am sending you the same matter. There are a number of college women of Howard University who would like to participate in the woman suffrage procession on Monday, March the third. We do not wish to enter if we must meet with discrimination on account of race affiliation. Can you assign us to a desireable place in the college women's section.

There is still another request. Our sorority had hoped to have had Miss Jane Addams to address us next month, but we have learned to-day that she is to sail for Egypt next week. From among the many noted women who will be here in connection with the Inauguration, can you put us in communication with some one of them-- one who is an eloquent, forcible, and scholarly lecturer, some one of national if not world-wide fame? We are most desirous of having a good speaker to address the college women of Howard. We can assure such an one a large and appreciative audience.

Hoping that you may find it convenient to send me an early reply; and thanking you for such consideration, I remain....

Quander's letter makes it very clear that she was anxious to participate, either in an AKA or in a Howard University contingent. This was in spite of opposition from Howard's Dean Kelly Miller who did not support women's rights. Quander had already realized that AKA needed to expand its reach and activities beyond the campus in order to allay accusations of insularity by DST insurgents. It would have been organizational suicide not to participate. Where the AKA and DST women marched in the

parade remains slightly unclear but most report that they marched with the college women's division. Quander and her sisters simply may have marched within the Howard group in the college division rather than under an AKA banner. According to Rohulamin Quander, Marjorie Holloman Parker (a former Supreme Basileus) implies that the AKA sorors (and probably the DST sorors) had been assigned to the rear of the Washington, DC, contingent but broke rank and marched “with their White leaders including Jeannette Rankin.”

Nellie Quander, despite her diminutive stature (5' 1” and 100 lbs), was a force to be reckoned with. She was a tireless organizer with a strong personality, feared but respected by her students and her colleagues. Even relatives who found her forbidding had no doubt “that had the political and racial climate been different . . . [her] strength, focus, and vision was such that she could have successfully served . . . as Secretary of State or as the first African American and female president.” As an old friend recalls, “She was an authority figure, and people knew that they could depend upon her, and not to mess with her either.” Aloof and intensely private, nonetheless, Quander worked successfully with Mary Church Terrell (Honorary Delta), Mary McLeod Bethune (Honorary Delta) and Dorothy I. Height (DST soror). Her scholarly and rigorous approach to life is best summed up by the following advice she gave to her AKA sisters in the 1961 issue of Ivy Leaf, the official magazine of AKA: “When I'm asked to give AKA a message for the future, I think of Virgil's advice to Aeneas, 'Only go on, and where the way leads, direct thy path.'”

Nellie Quander, ca, 1920. From: Nellie Quander, An Alpha Kappa Alpha Pearl, by Rohulamin Quander, p. 121.


Gallagher, Robert A. “Alice Paul: 'I Was Arrested, Of Course...': An Interview with the Famed Suffragette, Alice Paul (in) American Heritage, Vol. 25, no. 2 (Feb. 1974), p.20. Contains Paul's recollections of the order of the parade including placement of black women; also role of Mary Church Terrell.

“Alpha Kappa Alpha Donates $1 Million to Howard University.” Los Angeles Sentinel, Jan. 24, 2008, p.A.11.

Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated (website).;

Ansah, Ama. “Votes for Women Means Votes for Black Women.” From the website of the National Women's History Museum, Washington, DC.

Cassidy, Tina. Mr. President, How Long Must We Wait?: Alice Paul, Woodrow Wilson, and the Fightfor the Right to Vote. New York: 37INK/ATRIA, c2019. Cassidy says that there was a group of black women who did march in the rear of the parade.

Hollmuller, Anne. “Chaos and Persistence at the 1913 Women's Suffrage March.”

Find a Grave Memorials.

Giddings, Paula. In Search of Sisterhood: Delta Sigma Theta and the Challenge of the Black SororityMovement. New York: William Morrow, 1988.

Harvey, Sheridan. Marching for the Vote: Remembering the Woman Suffrage Parade of 1913.”

Lunardini, Christine. Alice Paul: Equality for Women. Lives of American Women, edited by Carol Berkin. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2013.

McNealey, Earnestine Green. Pearls of Service: the Legacy of America's First Black Sorority, AlphaKappa Alpha. Chicago, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., 2006.

National Woman's Party Records, 1850-1975. Library of Congress, Washington, DC. Group 1, Boxes 1-3 for correspondence re African American women. See also, Women and Social Movements in the United States, 1600-2000 (WASM) database _________________ for copies of the letter from Quander to Alice Paul. National Woman's Party records are also available on microfilm.

Nellie Quander.

Nellie Quander Leadership Institute.

Parker, Marjorie Holloman. Alpha Kappa Alpha: In the Eye of the Beholder. Chicago: Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., 1979.

Quander family: see:

Quander, Rohulamin. Nellie Quander, An Alpha Kappa Alpha Pearl: the Story of the Woman Who Saved an International Organization. Foreword by Faye B. Bryant, 21st Supreme Basileus, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. [Washington, D.C]: Quander Historical Society in association with Three Dimensional Publishing, c2008. Quander candidly explores Nellie Quander's personality. (An excerpt from this book regarding the suffrage march can be found in the Women and Social Movements in the United States, 1600-2000 (WASM) database: ________________.

Stevens, Doris. Jailed for Freedom: American Women Win the Vote. Edited by Carol O'Hare. Foreword by Edith Mayo, Smithsonian Inst. Rev. ed. Troutdale, OR: NewSage Press, 1995.

Times Dispatch, Richmond, VA, March 2, 1913, p.2. “Colored Women in Suffrage Parade: They Will Have Places in College and New York Divisons. Issue Is Squarely Put. Already It is Said to Have Caused Dissension in Ranks.” Despite attempts by NAWSA to keep plans and dissent quiet, Southern newspapers were well aware of problems within the organization.

The Crisis, Vol. 5, no. 6 (April 1913); Vol. 6, no. 1 (May 1913). Modernist Journal Project (Brown University and University of Tulsa;

Women and Social Movements in the United States, 1600-2000. Database. (by subscription). See letter to Alice Paul from Nellie M. Quander; also excerpts about Quander's participation in the suffrage movement as described by Rohulamin Quander (see above).

W.E.B. Du Bois Papers, 1803-1999. MS 312, University of Massachusetts, Amherst. See correspondence (telegrams) between Quander and Du Bois inviting him to speak at Shaw Junior High School during Negro History Week. Dubois declined twice (1936 and 1938), probably the only time Quander accepted a “no” to a request. [LINK to]

Zahniser, J.D. and Amelia R. Fry. Alice Paul: Claiming Power. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.

Biographical Database of Black Women Suffragists

Biography of Nellie Mae Quander, 1880-1961

By Janae Barbour, Bria Crowder, Mahogany Dixon, Alexandria Harris, Briana Harris, Mikayla Rodriguez, Sabrina Francis, and Jade Polly
Undergraduates, Howard University

Nellie Mae Quander was born in Washington, D.C. on February 11, 1880 to John Pierson Quander and Hannah Bruce Ford Quander. John Pierson Quander was the direct descendant of Nancy and Charles Quander. Nancy was amongst the slaves freed by President George Washington in his last testament. Hannah Bruce Ford Quander was a direct descendent of West Ford, the slave-born son of Bushrod Washington, nephew of George Washington. This family is recognized for having America's longest documented record of free African-American lineage.

During her early years, Nellie Quander attended Washington, D.C.'s public schools. She graduated with honors from Miner Normal School, which was established in 1851 as the Normal School for Colored Girls to train teachers. Nellie Quander attended Howard University; while enrolled at Howard University, Quander also taught students at the Garrison School in Washington D.C.'s public school system. When she went to Howard University in January 1910, the number of women students was miniscule. As a result, that same month she saw the advertising for a new intake for Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority. It was the second year that Alpha Kappa Alpha was taking a group of women into the sorority. This was a lifelong commitment and for the women, and this was an opportunity to intellectually associate with one another and not to find themselves in total isolation.

Nellie Quander was elected the first National President over Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. It was Nellie Quander's vision that "helped other members to see that Alpha Kappa Alpha could and should do more than enrich college experiences and strengthen enduring friendships. In this vision, which still prevails, each woman who joins will thereafter be associated with other like-minded women in efforts to use intelligence, creativity, moral sensitivity, and all those characteristics which distinguish human beings as human beings to live more fully and completely." She was the driving force in resolving the most serious crisis in the early life of the sorority, and thus through her leadership, conscientiousness, and endurance, Alpha Kappa Alpha became the first Greek-letter sorority organized by African-American women to be incorporated.

In June 1912, Nellie graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree, magna cum laude, in history, economics, and political science. As President of Alpha Kappa Alpha, Quander wrote to Alice Paul, the organizer of the March 3, 1913 suffrage parade on the eve of Woodrow Wilson's inauguration:

There are a number of college women of Howard University who would like to participate in the woman suffrage [procession on Monday, March the third. We do not wish to

enter if we must meet with discrimination on account of race affiliation. Can you assign us to a desirable place in the college women's section?

So what happened when the Howard women joined the suffrage parade? One subsequent account suggested that they “broke the assigned Colored ranks at the rear of the District of Columbia contingent . . . [and] marched alongside their White leaders, including Jeannette Rankin.”

Quander became an educator in the public school system in Washington, D.C., where she served students for 30 years. From 1914 to 1915, Quander studied at Columbia University earning a Master of Arts degree. Later, Quander furthered her education by attaining a degree in social work at New York University, and studied economics for two summers at the University of Washington. From 1916 to 1917, Quander was a special field agent for the Children's Bureau for the Department of Labor. In this position, she observed the social and economic structure of mentally handicapped people in New Castle County, Delaware. The study was sponsored by the local Women's Club to prepare to establish an institution for the mentally handicapped. In 1936, Quander earned a diploma at Uppsala University in Sweden. She attended the International Conference on Social Work in London, England during the same year. In the public schools, Quander established and supported the School Safety Patrol Unit for twenty-five years.

Quander demonstrated leadership at the YWCA, where she was a board member and chairman of the young women's department. She was a member of the board of directors of the Business Professional and Industrial Committee in the Phillis Wheatley YMCA. Quander was the national industrial field secretary in work related to unions. She was a delegate for unions related to education and the Women's Trade Union League. She served as executive secretary of Miner Community Center, which served women and children. She also was secretary of the trustee board of Lincoln Temple Congregational Church, thus among the group that led the operations and financial affairs of the church.#x200e


Ashley Luthern, “Author Rohulamin Quander Writes About the First African American Sorority,” July 23, 2009. Retrieved November 03, 2017, from

Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., “Centennial Celebration, 1908-2008” Retrieved October 28, 2017, from

Nellie M. Quander to Alice Paul, 17 February 1913, National Woman's Party Papers, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Rohulamin Quander, Nellie Quander, An Alpha Kappa Alpha Pearl: The Story of the Woman Who Saved an International Organization (n.p.: The Quander Historical Society, 2008), quote on p. 90.

Biographical sketch of Nellie Quander at

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