Changing Faces of YDS

Rev. Dr. Rena Karefa-Smart PhotoYale was founded in 1701 to educate students for “Publick employment both in Church & Civil State.” Its first student, Jacob Heminway, graduated in 1704. In 1834, James W.C. Pennington began sitting in on divinity classes and thus became the first black person to attend class at YDS and, for that matter, at Yale. (James Pennington portraits are on display in the Common Room and the Pennington Classroom.)

The Divinity School enrolled its first African American male in 1872. That student, Solomon Coles, would go on to graduate in 1875. Another African American student, James William Morris, transferred to YDS a year after Solomon Coles matriculated and because of the credits he brought with him graduated before Coles, in 1874. This makes Morris the first African American graduate of YDS; Yale College graduate Edward Bouchet and he are the first black recipients of a Yale degree.


Related story: Lecia Allman ‘16 M.Div. and her work to recover YDS diversity history.


The first Asian American males graduated in 1921. The first women graduated in the 1930s, opening the door for many more. The first African American woman graduated in 1945, the first Hispanic American woman in 1953, and the first Asian American woman in 1957. The following year, in 1958, the first Hispanic American man graduated.

We invite you to explore the galleries below to learn more about the Divinity School’s distinguished alumni of color and the “firsts” of various categories. 

Current YDS students and researchers are invited to take part in these projects. Please contact the Office of Communications to particpate.


Communications Office