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Red Devil of the Week: Esther Popel Shaw Class of 1919

Cristian Tineo ’22, Associate Life & Style Editor

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This spring will mark 100 years since Esther Popel Shaw became the first African American woman to graduate from Dickinson. Popel Shaw commuted from her hometown of Harrisburg everyday because African Americans were not yet integrated into campus housing while she was a student.

According to information from the Dickinson College Archives, during her time at Dickinson, Popel Shaw studied Spanish, Latin, French and German, following the “Latin Scientific Curriculum.” She was a member of the African American sorority Delta Sigma Theta and was also inducted into the Phi Beta Kappa honor society. 

After graduating, Popel Shaw worked shortly in Washington D.C. for the Bureau of War Risk Insurance. She later became a chemist in Chicago after graduating from the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy. 

Popel Shaw was also a teacher for over two decades. She worked at schools in Baltimore and D.C. teaching foreign languages, algebra and penmanship before retiring in 1952. 

Popel Shaw self-published her anthology of poems in high school and became a poet of the Harlem Renaissance. She contributed to publications such as The Crisis: A Record of the Darker Races and Opportunity: A Journal of Negro Life. She was also an editor for the Negro History Bulletin, “a publication of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, established by Carter G. Woodson, the father of black history.” 

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Red Devil of the Week: Esther Popel Shaw Class of 1919