New Yale Colleges

Mary Goodman Posted In: Profiles

I give and bequest my whole estate both real and personal except as hereinafter mentioned to the President and Fellows of Yale College in New Haven, Connecticut, for the use of the Theological Department in said College for the purpose of establishing a scholarship or scholarships in said Theological Department and I desire that the income derived from the property which shall come to said Corporation under and by virtue of this will shall be used in aiding young men in preparing for the Gospel ministry, preference being always given to young men of color.

— Will of Mary A. Goodman 

The Goodman shield symbolizes Mary Goodman’s legacy at Yale. Ripples extending from the cross from the Divinity School shield represent how Goodman’s generous gift has created a lasting effect for theological students many generations later.

The Goodman shield symbolizes Mary Goodman’s legacy at Yale. Ripples extending from the cross from the Divinity School shield represent how Goodman’s generous gift has created a lasting effect for theological students many generations later.

Mary A. Goodman was Yale’s very first donor of color despite her modest life as a domestic worker in New Haven, CT. At the age of 68, she died on January 26, 1872 and bequeathed Yale her entire estate of almost $5,000 (more than $94,000 in 2014 dollars). A Black American woman cognizant of the changing times, Goodman saw the need for strong leadership in her community during Reconstruction; she wanted to create a scholarship for black men to attend the Theological Department (now Yale’s Divinity School). In recognition of Goodman’s generosity and sacrifice (she may not have left funds to bury herself with such a large and selfless bequest), the Yale Corporation voted to bury her in the Yale Lot of the Grove Street Cemetery. 

East Divinity Hall, one of the former homes of the Yale Divinity School.

While women were still barred from education at the time of Goodman’s death, Yale officially changed its enrollment restriction against black men in 1870 with the acceptance of Edward Bouchet. In fall 1872, Solomon M. Coles, who was formerly enslaved, became the first officially enrolled Black American at Yale Divinity School (YDS). (Black pastor James W. C. Pennington audited classes at YDS in decades prior, but was not awarded a degree.) While Coles graduated in 1875, James William Morris became the first black graduate of YDS in 1874. Morris only needed a year of study after transferring credits from Lincoln University, where Coles also attended. Coles went on to lead a congregation in New York while Morris went to preach in South Carolina. 

The legacy of the Mary A. Goodman Scholarship remains strong today after starting a tidal wave of black student enrollment at YDS. From 1873 on, YDS had black students in almost every class. In May 2015, YDS will graduate its largest black class ever, with almost 30 students of color. 

YDS alumnus James R. Hackney, Jr., MAR ’79 remarked, “For Yale to name one of the new residential colleges after the University’s first black donor — someone who never received an education and could not, as a woman, enroll — would be incredible, and very fitting. Neighboring Grove Street Cemetery, these colleges will overlook Mary Goodman’s grave.


  1. Silvia Gosnell • April 6, 2015

    As a former slave and a woman, Mary Goodman would provide an important counterbalance to the current residential-college name mix. Her example of sheer generosity and vision, in the context of humility, would serve as an example to all of us who've been fortunate enough to receive a Yale education. I'll confess that I'm a bit blown away by the depth of her focus on others... by the fact that she literally forgot herself in the process of serving her community and the world. What a powerful and important statement it would make for Yale to name one of its colleges after Mary Goodman. Reply

  2. Gretchen Schmidt Bishay • April 7, 2015

    There is more about Mary Goodman at and that points to another article I enjoyed, about a current scholarship recipient, at I had not read about her until today.

    Gretchen Schmidt Bishay
    Yale College 1990 Reply

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