Mary Annette Anderson was the first woman of color to graduate from Middlebury College and the first woman of color to be inducted into Phi Beta Kappa honor society. She was born in Shoreham, Vermont to William Anderson, a former slave who traveled north after the Civil War and purchased his own farm, and Philomine Langlois of French Canadian and Indian heritage. As Valedictorian, she delivered a Commencement address entitled “The Crown of Culture.” Additionally, the class sang a poem she penned at their Class Day celebration.*
After graduation, she moved to New Orleans, Louisiana where she taught at Straight University for one year before joining the Howard University faculty in Washington, D.C. She taught there until 1907 when she married fellow faculty member, Walter Lucius Smith. Eventually she returned to Vermont with her husband, who completed postgraduate work at the University of Vermont. She died in 1922 at age forty-seven.
*The Undergraduate reports, “The 1899 Class Day exercises were closed by the singing by the class of the class song to the air, “Tenting on the Old Camp Ground.” It was written by Miss Annette Anderson and is given in full below :
We gather today for a farewell song,
A song of happy days
That we shall all remember long,
Tho’ treading sundered ways.
Oft in days to come will the memory turn
Back to the shady hill,
The gray old walls where the ivy climbs,
The river, cool and still—
Thinking again, thinking again
Of the days at dear old Midd.
The mariner leaving his native shore
And looking out to sea,
Hears Hope sing a song to the breakers’ roar
Of fair isles he will see.
So we today as we leave the past
Seek to read the future’s skies
With cheerful hope, yet a half-formed dread
Of the secret there that lies.—
Drifting away, drifting away
From the days at dear old Midd.”
Horton, Guy B., ed. “Commencement.” The Undergraduate XXIV.6 (July 1899): 91-2, 96. Print. The Undergraduate 20-24, 1894-99 Vt Rm 378.743 MQ2, Special Collections and Archives, Middlebury College.