First Woman of Color to Earn WSU Graduate Degree, Champion for Minority Students

Gladys Jennings remembers well her first night in Pullman in 1946.

“I arrived in the middle of the night, and I wasn’t expected at the dormitory until the next day,” she said. “The house mother had gone to bed, so the girls put me up in the parlor, from which I emerged early the next morning completely dressed – with hat!.”

Gladys JenningsBeing one of the very few African-Americans in Pullman at the time was a challenge, but one that Jennings overcame. She was the first woman of color to earn a graduate degree from WSU – a master’s degree in foods and nutrition in 1948.

“It was my first time away from home, and there were not many African-Americans any place in town. There was one African-American family in Pullman at the time, and they were a lifesaver,” Jennings said. “I did join the international club; it was one place I could identify with some diversity. “

A native of Ohio, she earned her undergraduate degree in dietetics from The Ohio State University. She came to Pullman for her graduate work for two reasons.

“I thought it was near California, and I had a sister in California,” Jennings said, laughing. “That obviously wasn’t the case.”

Jennings also came to Pullman because it was one of the few places that offered her a teaching assistantship. Her research focused on what impact the then-prototype microwave oven had on the nutritional content of frozen peaches. She has fond memories of those student days.

“The people in my college and department were very friendly,” she said. “Margaret Hard was the research center chair. She was one of the people who taught me and helped me with my research along with Selma Streit, Nettie Esselbaugh and Hazel Murray.”

Jennings said her WSU education served her well.

“I felt well prepared, certainly, when I graduated from WSU,” she said.

Over the course of her career, she taught at Syracuse University and North Carolina College, chaired the home economics department at Spelman College and served as a hospital dietitian. She eventually returned to Pullman and WSU, though, to teach and conduct research.

And throughout her time at WSU, she has been a champion and role model for minority students. She chaired WSU’s Minority Scholarship Committee and worked with the WSU African American Alumni Alliance. In 1998, Jennings won the WSU African American Alumni Award, and in 2004, received the Distinguished Service Award from the WSU Office of Equity and Diversity. In fact, the library at WSU’s Talmadge Heritage Center Library is named in her honor.

She received the WSU Alumni Achievement Award in 2005.

Today, Jennings continues to actively recruit minority students for the WSU College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences.

By Kathy Barnard