A Long Overdue Tribute to the First Black Woman to Graduate from the Yale School of Music

helen-haganHelen Eugenia Hagan is thought to be the first African American woman to study at the Yale School of Music. She graduated in 1912. She later became the first African American pianist to perform at New York concert venue and was the only African American performer sent to France to entertain the troops at the end of World War I. Later, Hagan served as a member of the music faculty at what is now Tennessee State University in Nashville and was dean of music at Bishop College in Marshall, Texas.

Hagan died in 1964 and her remains were buried in an unmarked grave in the Evergreen Cemetery in New Haven. Elizabeth Foxwell, editor of the book In Their Own Words: American Women in World War I (Onconee Spirit Press, 2015) in which Hagan was featured, began a crowdfunding campaign to raise money to place a marker on Hagan’s grave. The Yale School of Music contributed to the effort. The marker was dedicated in a recent ceremony at the cemetery.

Robert Blocker, dean of the Yale School of Music, said: “Over a century ago, Helen Hagan embodied the ideals of the School of Music that are reflected in our current students today – artistic excellence, intellectual curiosity, and service to humankind. Her achievements as a woman of color at the dawn of the 20th century are remarkable.”

Related Articles


  1. Thanks so much for discussing the Hagan grave-marker unveiling and my anthology _In Their Own Words: American Women in World War I_. Actually, Hagan is not included in the collection, as I was unable to find a first-person account by her regarding her experiences as a musician with the “Proctor Party” in 1919 France. However, I wrote a post on Hagan for my WWI blog, which also includes links to her letter to W. E. B. Du Bois and an excerpt from her 1912 Concerto in C Minor, her only extant work: https://americanwomeninwwi.wordpress.com/2016/01/18/helen-hagan-black-pianist-for-the-aef/

Leave a Reply

Get the JBHE Weekly Bulletin

Receive our weekly email newsletter delivered to your inbox

Latest News

Two Black Scholars Appointed to Faculty Positions

The new faculty are Esther Jones at Brown University and Dagmawi Woubshet at the University of Pennsylvania.

Ph.D. in Counselor Education and Supervision is Established at Bowie State University

"The new program will help to increase the number of counselor educators within the counseling field and the number of competent Black counselor educators," says Dr. Otis Williams, chair of the Bowie State University department of counseling and psychological studies.

Elizabeth City State University Partners With the University of Tennessee Health Science Center to Increase Representation of Black Graduate...

"We are excited by this partnership with UT Health Science Center and the opportunities this brings to our students who wish to pursue advanced degrees," said Kuldeep Rawat, dean of the Elizabeth City State University School of Science, Health and Technology.

Kimberly White-Smith Honored for Outstanding Contributions to Teacher Education

“Through her leadership and scholarship, Dr. White-Smith inspires a new generation of teachers to serve students and approach their work with equity, compassion, and respect,” said Gail F. Baker, provost and senior vice president at the University of San Diego. 

Featured Jobs