Inspiring students: Gloria Claire Carpenter

Image credit: A. D. White Architectural Photographs, Cornell University Library

As part of this ‘Inspiring Students’ series, the other week I spoke about the first black man to be officially recorded as a student of Cambridge University, Alexander Crummell. That this was monumental moment was only passed in the late 1850s is shameful, but even worse is the date of Gloria Claire Carpenter’s arrival at the university.

Believed to be the first black woman at Cambridge, as the earliest found by the Black Cantabs Research Society in records, Carpenter arrived at Girton in 1945 – around a century after Crummell arrived at Queens. Keeping in mind that this was two years before women were given full membership to the University, her achievements become an even greater feat of perseverance.

When speaking to the president of the Black Cantabs, Nafisa Waziri, about any stories she has found particularly inspiring through the society’s research, Carpenter’s name was mentioned: “It was a difficult feat for women to attain a university education. As you can imagine, it was even rarer and more remarkable for a black woman to succeed in such an environment,” Waziri told me. “She exemplifies dignify in the face of discrimination, excelling academically in a different environment while balancing societal demands, and contributing to the development of her home nation."

Carpenter – later known by her married name, Cumper – was indeed an incredible woman. After overcoming the obstacles of racism and sexism in her path to graduate with a degree in Law, she returned to Jamaica, where she went on to become a prominent social reformer. Cumper collaborated with others in the writing of various works, such as Family Law in the Commonwealth Caribbean, and contributed to the foundations of Jamaica’s Family Court. In addition to this, Cumper also played an integral role in the establishment of the Faculty of Law at the University of West Indies.

Cumper was the first of many black women who fought prejudice to study at the University around this time, working against the odds to succeed and receive the education they sought from Cambridge.

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