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Ruth J. Simmons

Academic administrator and college president Ruth J. Simmons was born on July 3, 1945 near Grapeland, Texas to Fanny and Isaac Stubblefield. After the family moved to Houston in 1952, Simmons graduated top of her class from Phillis Wheatley High School in 1963. She then received her B.A. degree in French from Dillard University in 1967 and her M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in romance languages and literature from Harvard University in 1970 and 1973.

Simmons became as an assistant professor of French at the University of New Orleans in 1973; and, two years later, was promoted to assistant dean of their College of Liberal Arts. In 1977, she was hired by California State University, Northridge where she served as administrative coordinator for their National Endowment for the Humanities Liberal Studies Project until 1978 when she was made acting director of international programs and associate professor of Pan-African studies. In 1979, Simmons joined the University of Southern California as assistant, and then associate dean of graduate studies. She remained here until 1983 when she was hired by Princeton University to serve as director of studies for their new residential college, Butler College. From 1985 to 1987 she also worked as their acting director of Afro-American studies; and, in 1986, she was promoted to associate dean of faculty at Princeton University. Simmons subsequently served as provost of Spelman College from 1990 to 1991 before returning to Princeton as vice provost. In 1995, Simmons became the first African American woman to head a major college or university upon being named president of Smith College. Here, she established the first engineering program at a woman’s college. She held this position until 2001 when she was selected president of Brown University, making her the first African American woman to head an Ivy League institution. Here, she raised a record amount of funding for the school and established a need-blind admission standard for undergraduates. In 2012, she stepped down as president of Brown, but remained as a professor of comparative literature and Africana studies. Simmons subsequently became interim president of Prairie View A&M University in 2017 before being named president of the school, making her their first woman president.

Simmons has served on numerous boards throughout her career, including for JSTOR, Pfizer, Inc., Texas Instruments, Goldman Sachs, Howard University, Mondelez International, Chrysler, LLC, and Princeton University. She has also been a presidential appointee for President Bill Clinton’s Women’s Progress Commemoration Commission in 1999 and President Barack Obama’s Commission on White House Fellowships in 2009.

Simmons has over thirty honorary degrees and has received many awards such as CBS’s Woman of the Year in 1996, the National Urban League’s Achievement Award in 1998, the United Negro College Fund’s President’s Award in 2001, the Fulbright Lifetime Achievement Medal in 2002, and the Ellis Island Medal of Honor in 2010.

Simmons resides in Texas and has two adult children, Khari and Maya.

Ruth J. Simmons was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on December 3, 2019.

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W.R. Banks Elementary School

Phillis Wheatley High School

Dillard University

Wellesley College

George Washington University

Harvard University

Atherton Elementary

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Prairie View



Favorite Food

Chicken Enchiladas With Rice And Refried Beans, Gumbo

Short Description

Academic administrator and college president Ruth J. Simmons (1945- ) was the first African American woman to head a major college or university as president of Smith College, the first African American woman to head an Ivy League institution as president of Brown University, and the first woman president of Prairie View A&M University.


Brown University

Prairie View A&M University

Smith College

Princeton University

Spelman College

University of Southern California

California State University, Northridge

University of New Orleans

Radcliffe College

George Washington University

Language Services Division, U.S. Department of State

Favorite Color


The Honorable Kurt Schmoke

Mayor, city attorney, and academic administrator Hon. Kurt L. Schmoke was born on December 1, 1949 in Baltimore, Maryland, the only child of Irene and Murray Schmoke. College-educated, Murray Schmoke was a chemist while Irene was a social worker. Schmoke attended Baltimore City College, a public high school, where he was the quarterback of the school’s state champion football team. Schmoke’s parents and pastor, Marion Bascom of the Douglas Memorial Community Church, encouraged his academic career. Schmoke was also mentored by Baltimore Judge Robert Hammerman, who asked him to join the Lancers Boys Club, a youth organization that Hammerman ran in his spare time.

Schmoke attended Yale University, where he continued to excel in school and athletics, and was chosen to represent the student body during the turmoil that surrounded the 1970 trial of Black Panther Bobby Seale. Schmoke graduated with his B.A. degree in history in 1971, after which he was selected for a Rhodes Scholarship. He studied at Oxford University in England for two years, traveling throughout Europe and Africa in his free time. Schmoke attended Harvard Law School, graduating with his J.D. degree in 1976. While in law school, he met and married Baltimore native and ophthalmologist Patricia Locks. The couple has two children, Gregory and Katherine.

After passing the Maryland Bar Examination, Schmoke joined the prominent law firm of Piper & Marbury, where he worked for less than two years before being recruited by the Carter Administration to work as assistant director under Stuart Eizenstat on the White House Domestic Policy Staff. Schmoke, however, decided to return to public service in Baltimore as an Assistant United States Attorney in 1978. Four years later, he successfully ran for State’s Attorney, Baltimore’s chief prosecuting officer.

In 1987, Schmoke became the first elected African American mayor of the City of Baltimore. Schmoke was re-elected to his second term with more than 70% of the vote in 1991. As mayor, Schmoke developed a reputation for his pioneering approaches to the problems of urban America. During his time in office, he instituted needle-exchange programs for drug addicts, attracted a new football team to the city and promoted citywide reading. President George Bush awarded him the 1992 National Literacy Award for his efforts to promote adult literacy. Two years later, President Bill Clinton praised his programs to improve public housing and to enhance community economic development. In 1999, Schmoke elected not to run for a fourth term and was succeeded by Martin O’Malley. From 2000 to 2002, he was a partner in the law offices of Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering in Baltimore. Schmoke is the Dean of Howard University’s School of Law, a position he assumed in 2003. Schmoke is on the board of directors of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, Children’s Health Forum, Foundation for the National Institutes of Health, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Legg Mason, Inc. and McGraw-Hill Companies.

Hon. Kurt Schmoke was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on September 25, 2007.

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Gwynns Falls Elementary School

Baltimore City College

Yale University

Harvard Law School

Garrison Middle School

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All Seasons



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District of Columbia

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Short Description

Academic administrator, city attorney, and mayor The Honorable Kurt Schmoke (1949 - ) was elected Baltimore, Maryland's first African American mayor in 1987 after serving four years as state's attorney. He served as mayor until 1998. Schmoke was Dean of the Howard University School of Law.


Howard University School of Law

Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP, Bos

Baltimore (Md.). Mayor

Baltimore (Md.). State's Attorney.

United States Attorney-General

White House Domestic Policy Council (U.S.)

Piper & Marbury

Favorite Color


Timing Pairs

<a href="">Tape: 1 Slating of The Honorable Kurt Schmoke's interview</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 The Honorable Kurt Schmoke lists his favorites</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 The Honorable Kurt Schmoke describes his mother's family background</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 The Honorable Kurt Schmoke describes his parents' professions</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 The Honorable Kurt Schmoke talks about his paternal grandparents</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 The Honorable Kurt Schmoke recalls his early experiences of discrimination</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 The Honorable Kurt Schmoke describes the history of his maternal family's enslavement</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 The Honorable Kurt Schmoke remembers his step great-grandmother</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 The Honorable Kurt Schmoke describes his earliest childhood memories</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 The Honorable Kurt Schmoke recalls his early education</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 The Honorable Kurt Schmoke remembers Coach George B. Young</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 The Honorable Kurt Schmoke reflects upon his high school football experiences</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 The Honorable Kurt Schmoke recalls his aspiration to attend college</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 The Honorable Kurt Schmoke remembers his early interest in politics</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 The Honorable Kurt Schmoke talks about segregation in Baltimore, Maryland</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 The Honorable Kurt Schmoke recalls his aspiration to become the mayor of Baltimore, Maryland</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 The Honorable Kurt Schmoke remembers Garrison Junior High School in Baltimore, Maryland</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 The Honorable Kurt Schmoke describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 The Honorable Kurt Schmoke recalls his early influences</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 The Honorable Kurt Schmoke remembers travelling in the segregated South</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 The Honorable Kurt Schmoke remembers the March on Washington</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 The Honorable Kurt Schmoke talks about segregation in Hope, Arkansas</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 The Honorable Kurt Schmoke describes the presidential election of 1960</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 The Honorable Kurt Schmoke recalls the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 The Honorable Kurt Schmoke describes his experiences in the Lancers club</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 The Honorable Kurt Schmoke remembers the lectures at the Lancers club</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 The Honorable Kurt Schmoke recalls serving as class president at Baltimore City College in Baltimore, Maryland</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 The Honorable Kurt Schmoke recalls his athletic activities at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 The Honorable Kurt Schmoke describes his childcare center at Yale University</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 The Honorable Kurt Schmoke remembers Bobby Seale's trial in New Haven, Connecticut</a>







The Honorable Kurt Schmoke describes his childcare center at Yale University
The Honorable Kurt Schmoke describes his experiences in the Lancers club
Today, if you asked me in terms of extracurricular stuff, what was the most important thing I did at Yale [Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut], it was starting a childcare center. I, I opened, along with a couple of other undergraduates, we started a childcare center. It was for, it was designed for, to help the employees, the blue collar employees of Yale. Later on, we found that it really did help mostly the secretaries and graduate students' children, because the blue collar workers generally were older. There was a secretarial group. And, but, anyway, and we named it--got Calvin's [Calvin Hill] permission to name it after him, and so, the Calvin Hill Daycare Center/Kitty-Lustman Kindergarten [Calvin Hill Daycare Center and Kitty Lustman-Findling Kindergarten, New Haven, Connecticut] is still in operation in 2007. We started this in, in 1969. We started that daycare center and it's still in operation in New Haven [Connecticut] in a converted firehouse that used to be a little fire station that the city donated to us, and we renovated it, and now it's been built on, so it's a nice, it's really considered one of the best early childhood education centers in the State of Connecticut.$$Where did you get this idea?$$My college roommate and I were talking about some of the problems at the university one day. And he had come back from working in the dining hall. We both worked in the dining hall my freshman year, but he continued to work in the dining hall, and I did some other jobs, library assistant, all that kind of stuff. And, he was telling me this story about a lady in the dining hall who was having terrible childcare problems and that the boss, the manager of the dining hall, was just giving her a lot of grief, wouldn't cut her any slack, wouldn't let her come in a little late, wouldn't let her leave a little early and everything like that. And I said, "This is, this is just wrong. We ought to do something about this." And we went around and asked some administrators at the university, whether, "What was Yale doing about daycare?" And Yale wasn't doing anything about daycare at the time, and so we decided that we were gonna start a, a daycare center. Now, we didn't know much about daycare centers. All that we knew was that there were things called foundations out there that gave money to--and we started writing these letters. And, I, I think today about some of the letters I wrote, thinking that the longer the word, the more impressed they would be, and I got zero response from, from any foundation. But along the time that we started with the idea, Yale, by the spring of 1970, was hit with this massive demonstration in New Haven related to the trial of the Black Panthers [Black Panther Party]. And, demonstrators came in from all over the country and among the things that they needed, and this is amazing, always amazed me, the people brought little children with them to these demonstrations. So we changed our residential college for the weekend of that demonstration in May of 1970 to a daycare center, and the university, the light bulb went off and said, "We gotta do something here." And so, they agreed to match dollar for dollar, anything we could raise for the childcare center, and that's, it got going. We started it in the basement of a church, St. Thomas More church [St. Thomas More Catholic Chapel and Center, New Haven, Connecticut], and then later, in later years moved to the fire station.$$Wow, that's amazing--$$Yeah, yeah, it's still going on--$$--young men, who would think, concerned about childcare?$$Well, that was, I, listen, you, you are now talking to one of your classic nerds, I'm telling you now. So--.$$(Laughter).$How did you get to college [Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut]? I know you had some strong mentors, you mentioned Judge Hammerman [Robert I.H. Hammerman]--$$Yeah, I, someone, one of my classmates in high school [Baltimore City College, Baltimore, Maryland], my particular class that I was in, was overwhelmingly with Jewish. I was a, kind of a minority in that class, even a--I told you, we were in a huge high school, four thousand all boys, and it had various grade levels and sections, and I was in a class though that only had two blacks in it, and most of the kids were Jewish. And there was a club, a boys club [Lancers] in town that had been started by a, a juvenile court judge named Robert Hammerman. It--that club was overwhelmingly Jewish boys, and a, a decision had been made to integrate. I didn't know about this, that the decision had been made to integrate. Again, I didn't even, I didn't there, didn't know of the club's existence and I didn't realize that it had been segregated, but I was invited, along with some other guys, to, to join the club. And I just loved it because it would meet every Friday night at a local elementary school. We listened to a speaker and then we got to participate in sports. And the, and the judge was all, constantly writing to speakers all over the country, "If you're here in the D.C. [Washington, D.C.] area, could you come up to Baltimore [Maryland] and speak to this group of eighty young boys," et cetera. And we're, I mean we had congress people come in, we had supreme court judges, we had a lot of folks in Maryland, business and education leaders. I mean, and they would come in and they would talk about something at our level, for maybe twenty minutes, and then let us question them. And, most of the time, we would question them about, "Well, how'd you get where you are?" Now, every once in a while--'cause we had some really brilliant guys in there, they would get into policy debates, "You said in the following--." "I read this in an article--," and I'm sitting back there saying, you know, "Oh, my god, where'd these guys learn all this stuff?" (Laughter) So, it was (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Do you remember some of the speakers?$$Oh, well, I mean, we had, yes, many of the Baltimore Colts--what was then the Baltimore, before Colts moved to Indianapolis [Indianapolis Colts] they were in Baltimore, so, we had a number of their players. We had a number of the, the Orioles [Baltimore Orioles], Brooks Robinson, I know, came to speak there. We had a Congressman Charles Weltner [Charles L. Weltner], who was from Georgia and he was a very interesting man. He made a lot of votes in the [U.S.] House of Representatives against his party, trying to buck the lingering segregationist ideas. And so, he was kind of, progressive Democrat from Georgia and he came up to speak.