Charlotte Manye: First Native African to Graduate from American University

by | Dec 9, 2017 | Did You Know, DYK, History | 0 comments

While there is debate on exactly where Charlotte Manye Maxeke was born, the date she was born was April 7, 1874 in South Africa.

Members of The African Choir pose for a group portrait.
Charlotte Manye (first woman on the right)

Throughout her life, education was always a big focus, and it was for this reason she traveled to the United States of America with her church choir in 1894.  Once the church choir tour collapsed, Charlotte stayed and began to study at the Wilberforce University in Cleveland, Ohio, which was under the African Methodist Episcopal Church.[1]

While she was a student at Wilberforce, Charlotte was able to create opportunities to help other Africans study at the university.  She also met a man by the name of Marshall Maxeke, and graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree, which was to help her on her missionaries in Africa.[2]  Once Charlotte graduated from the university, she became the first native African to graduate at an American University.

In 1901, Charlotte and Marshall returned to South Africa and got engaged shortly after. [3]

Not too long after returning to South Africa, Charlotte started her missionary work, first becoming the organizer of the Women’s Mite Missionary Society in Johannesburg.  She also became the first African at Pietersburg in the Transvaal.

Even with her missionary work, Charlotte continued to advocate for educational opportunities, which she said would make South Africa more prosperous.  Together, Charlotte and her husband, Marshall, founded the Wilberforce Institute south of Johannesburg, which they named after the American university they both attended.  This school, which still exists today, was both a primary and secondary school.

Charlotte didn’t stop with her activism at education or her missionary work.  She also advocated for Women’s Rights, including better pay, treatment of women, and voting rights.

After the death of her husband, Charlotte was given the opportunity for another first for an African, the chance to testify before several government commissions on matters concerning African education in Johannesburg.  The responses she gave at this testimony resulted in positive occupational opportunities, which was also a first for Africans.

Charlotte passed away at the age of 65.  At her funeral, the words “She was everyone’s friend and no one’s enemy” were stated, words that remained true to who Charlotte was. [4]


[1]Charlotte Maxeke.” African Feminist Forum. March 25, 2016. Accessed November 10, 2017.

[2] Anonymous. “Charlotte (née Manye) Maxeke.” South African History Online. August 08, 2017. Accessed November 10, 2017.

[3] ibid

[4] The remarkable life of Charlotte Maxeke | The Heritage Portal. Accessed November 15, 2017.

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