In 1921 Eva Beatrice Dykes became the first black woman in the United States to complete the required coursework for a Ph.D. and the third African American woman to receive a doctoral degree. Two other black women, Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander and Georgiana Simpson, receive their Ph.D.s, in the same year as Dykes but because their respective commencement ceremonies took place earlier, Dykes is considered the third woman to receive the advanced degree.
Eva Dykes was born in Washington, D.C. in 1893, and attended M Street High School which was later renamed Paul Dunbar High School. In 1914, twenty-one year old Dykes graduated Summa Cum Laude from Howard University with a B.A. in English. After spending one year teaching at Walden University in Nashville, Tennessee, she decided to seek a Master’s Degree at Radcliffe College, an all women’s college which is now a part of Harvard University. Radcliffe, however, would not accept her degree from Howard, forcing Dykes to earn a second B.A. in English from the Massachusetts institution in 1917. Nonetheless she graduated Magna Cum Laude, and the following year earned an M.A. from Radcliffe. While at Radcliffe Dykes was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. She returned to Howard University in 1917 to complete her doctoral studies, earning the Ph.D. in 1921. Her dissertation focused on Alexander Pope’s views on slavery and his influence on American writers.
In 1920, while still studying at Howard, Dykes began teaching at her high school alma mater, Dunbar High School, and remained there until 1929, when she accepted a position teaching English at Howard University. Eva Dykes remained on the Howard faculty until 1944. While there she published a number of scholarly works including The Negro in English Romantic Thought which reflected her growing interest in examining black history and literature in England.
A member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church since 1920, Dykes left Howard University in 1944 to begin teaching at the Seventh-day Adventist institution for African Americans, Oakwood College in Huntsville, Alabama. While a faculty member there, she helped the school to gain accreditation. Dykes retired from full-time teaching in 1968.
For 50 years, from 1934 to 1984, Dykes wrote a regular column for the Adventist publication Message Magazine. The library at Oakwood College is named in her honor. Eva Beatrice Dykes died in Huntsville, Alabama in 1986 at the age of ninety-three.