Ask Abe: First Students of Color

An Alum

Who were the first students of color?

Abe

This question is trickier than you might think. In the early days of the UW, most non-white students didn’t report their race or ethnicity at the risk of facing harassment, discrimination, or violence. The first known African-American student was William Smith Noland 1875 (above, left). He then attended the Law School for two semesters before dropping out. Little is known about him after that — except that he died by suicide in 1890. Another early law grad was William T. Green (above, right), who graduated in 1892. One of the first known Native American students, Thomas St. Germaine, was already a football star when he was admitted to the Law School in 1904. And yet, he didn’t start in a single game that year. The Janesville Daily Gazette noted that “no colored or red-skinned athlete can have a place on a team” under the coach at the time. Faced with a hostile environment, St. Germaine left in 1907. He later graduated from Yale Law School, became the first attorney to play for an NFL team, and then became a tribal judge and the first Native American in Wisconsin to be admitted to the bar. The first known African-American woman to graduate was Mabel Watson Raimey (center) in 1918, who was fair-skinned and passed for white. Many people didn’t know her race until years later, after she became the first African American woman attorney in Wisconsin.