Ethel Hedgeman Lyle (1887-1950)
Ethel Hedgeman Lyle held a forty year career as an influential educator. She attended public elementary and high schools in the St. Louis area, and graduated from Sumner High School with honors. She received a scholarship to Howard University and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Liberal Arts. In her college years, Lyle belonged to Howard’s Choice, YWCA, and participated in other arts clubs and student groups. In 1908, she founded the Alpha Kappa Alpha (AKA) Sorority at Howard University, which was the first sorority founded by an African American woman. She would later serve as the National Treasurer of the sorority for over 20 years, leading the women’s group through the Great Migration, the Depression, and World War II.
After graduating from Howard, Lyle moved to Oklahoma to land her first job as a teacher. She was the first African American college graduate to teach in a ‘normal’ (teacher-training) school in Oklahoma, as well as the first African American woman to earn a Teacher’s Life Certificate from the Oklahoma State Department of Education. In 1911 she married George Lyle, her high school sweetheart, and they moved to Philadelphia to continue their teaching careers. There, Lyle was extremely active in the community. She helped found organizations like the West Philadelphia League of Women Voters, an organization formed to inspire women to take a larger political voice, and the Mothers Club of Philadelphia. She was also a member of the Republican Women’s Committee of Ward 40 and very active in her local church. In 1926, she founded and was the first president of Omega Omega, the first alumnae chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha in Philadelphia. Today, Omega Omega continues to provide services to women and children in the area. Lyle retired in 1948 after four decades of teaching students of all ages. In 2000, the Ethel Hedgeman Lyle Academy was founded in St. Louis in her honor. Lyle’s public action in education helped create social capital for women of color in the era of rapid urban expansion.