In Memoriam: Olivia Juliette Hooker, 1915-2018

Olivia Hooker, professor emerita of psychology at Fordham University in New York, passed away on November 21, at her home in White Plains, New York. She was 103 years old.

When Dr. Hooker was a child, she witnessed the 1921 destruction of the Greenwood section of her hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma, by White vigilantes who were responding to an alleged attack on a White woman by a Black teenager. Hooker’s mother had to hide her and her three siblings beneath a table as White men destroyed their home. Her father’s department store was destroyed during the violence. Official estimates of people killed in the incident ranged from 100 to 300.

During World War II, Dr. Hooker became the first Black woman to serve on active duty with the United States Coast Guard. In 2015, the Coast Guard named a building at its Staten Island base in her honor.

After leaving the Coast Guard, Dr. Hooker used her G.I. benefits to attend Columbia University in New York City for graduate school. While there, she interned at a prison where she worked with people with developmental disabilities. She went on to pursue a doctoral degree at the University of Rochester in New York, where she assessed the learning abilities of children with Down Syndrome.

Dr. Hooker joined the department of psychology at Fordham University in 1963, a time when the faculty was both predominately White and male. Throughout her teaching career, Dr. Hooker was committed to advancing minorities in psychology and often integrated Black culture into her courses, which were made up of mostly White students. During one of her undergraduate courses, she took the students to Harlem to see the work of Black nuns at the Saint Benedict’s Nursery.

Despite her many accomplishments, Dr. Hooker continued to face racism and prejudice throughout her lifetime. She was denied a fellowship from the American Psychology Association, despite having stellar references and having served as chair of the Constitution Committee of a local division of the association for 10 years.

“Dr. Hooker was indeed a pioneer, but she was so much more than that,” said Joseph M. McShane, president of Fordham University. “She served her country, and went on to serve generations of Fordham students as a professor, mentor, and role model. That Dr. Hooker did this despite formidable racial and gender barriers only highlights her talents and accomplishments. Our hearts and prayers are with Olivia Hooker’s loved ones.”

Dr. Hooker held a bachelor’s degree from Ohio State University, a master’s degree in psychological services from Columbia University, and a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Rochester.

Professor Hooker retired from the faculty at Fordham University in 1985.

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