Eva Beatrice Dykes

1893 - 1986

A piano prodigy as a child, Eva Beatrice Dykes was a multi-talented person who pursued a career as a teacher in both English and music. Born in Washington, D.C., and educated in area schools, she and her two sisters were raised by their mother.

Dykes graduated from Howard University summa cum laude in 1914, at the age of 21. Following a year of teaching English and Latin at a university in Nashville, Tennessee, she enrolled at Radcliffe College. RC did not accept her degree from Howard, but in 1917, two years after she enrolled, granted her an A.B. in English, magna cum laude, and elected her to membership in Phi Beta Kappa.

A year later she completed her master's degree and three years later completed a Ph.D. She was the first black woman in the United States to complete all requirements for a Ph.D., a feat she accomplished in March 1921 at Radcliffe. That spring, she and two others became the first black women in the U.S. to earn Ph.D. degrees.

Following graduation, she taught English at Paul Lawrence Dunbar High School, a black high school in Washington, D.C., for nine years. She then taught with distinction for 14 years at Howard University before accepting a position at Oakwood College in 1944.

In December of her last year at Radcliffe, Dykes had joined the Seventh-day Adventist Church. It was a commitment she took seriously. Even though she was an accomplished pianist, she used her ability in every possible way to assist in the evangelistic mission of her church.

OC was only an unaccredited junior college with an unrestricted admissions policy when she began to teach there. Even so, Dykes believed she could make a contribution in that setting. During the rest of her career she became a major force in upgrading the college's programs and helping it achieve accreditation as a four-year institution.

Although her primary responsibility was teaching English and Latin, she conducted the OC choirs for many years. She initiated the first performance of Handel's Messiah at the school and in 1946 organized the Aeolians, a choral group that has since been acclaimed as one of the finest ensembles in the world.

Dykes was a prolific writer, authoring several books and numerous articles. She wrote a column for the Message Magazine, the church's publication for black members, for fifty years, from 1934 to 1984.

In the 1940s when blacks were not allowed to attend Washington Missionary College, now Washington Adventist University, or eat in the Review and Herald cafeteria, she and other frustrated black members of the church agitated for better treatment and leadership opportunities in the church. This action led to the formation of regional black conferences at that time and by the end of the twentieth century to complete access to all SDA services, opportunities for leadership at all levels in the General Conference, and integration in all U.S. Adventist colleges and universities.

The OC library, named in her honor, was dedicated in 1973, the year she retired at age eighty. On that occasion, the General Conference Education department awarded her a Certificate of Merit, and at the General Conference Session in 1975, the church awarded her its Citation of Excellence.

Dykes died in 1986 at the age of 94.  

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Sources: Notable Black American women, 304-306; Louis B. Reynolds, "She Filled the Impossible Dream," Review and Herald, 4 January 1973, 15-17; Carlos Medley, "Laced with Grace," Adventist Review, 1 February 1990; Minneola Williams Dixon, "Eva Beatrice Dykes," Adventist Review, February 2005.