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Patterson, Frederick D. 1901–1988

Frederick D. Patterson 19011988

Association executive

Moved Around as a Youth.

College Years


Frederick Douglass Patterson was born October 10, 1901 in the Anacostia section of Washington, D.C. to Mamie and William Patterson. The couple had moved to the nations capital two or three years previously with their other five children from Texas. Mr. Patterson thought he would be able to find better work in Washington due to the lesser amount of racial problems there than in Texas. He named his youngest son after educator and abolitionist Frederick Douglass, whose onetime home was a couple of blocks away from where they lived.

Moved Around as a Youth.

Fredericks mother was a music teacher and his father was a school principal. They had both received their college degrees from Prairie View College in Texas. Once they arrived in Washington, his father returned to school at Howard University to study law. Mr. Patterson passed the D.C. bar shortly after Frederick was born. Despite all the hard work his parents did to improve the life of the family, nothing could stop them both from dying of tuberculosis before Frederick was two years old. The same illness would also claim one of Fredericks brothers a few years later.

Frederick initially went to live with a friend of the family, Aunt Julia Dorsey. His siblings all went to live with different family friends except his oldest sister, Wilhelmina Bessie, who was old enough to support herself and attend the Washington Conservatory of Music. In his autobiography Patterson says, I called Aunt Julia my Civil War aunt, because she was born during slavery. They continued living in the house of his parents when Frederick was still young, and he also started school there.

When Frederick was about seven-years-old his sister Bessie assumed his guardianship. She had finished school and was looking for work. She knew some of the family relatives and decided to go to live in Texas where she thought she would have the most assistance in finding work. Over the next few years Frederick and Bessie were often living in different cities. She was often unable to find teaching work where Frederick could live with her. So Frederick lived with different members of the family while attending school. From the fourth through the eighth grades Frederick attended Sam

At a Glance

Bom Frederick Douglass Patterson, October 10, 1901 in northeast Washington, D.C.; son of Mamie Brooks Patterson, a music teacher and homemaker, and William Ross Patterson, school principal and lawyer; married Catherine Elizabeth Moton in June 1935; 1 son, Frederick Douglass, Jr.; Education: attended Prarie View State College, 1915-1919; Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine, 1923, Iowa State University; Masters in Science, 1927, Iowa State University; PhD in Bacteriology, 1932, Cornell University

Instructor, Veterinary Medicine and Chemistry, Virginia State University, Petersburg, Virginia, 1923-27; Director, School of Agriculture, Virginia State University, 1927-28; Director of Veterinary Medicine and Instructor of Bacteriology, Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University), 1928-31, 1933-34; Director, Department of Agriculture, Tuskegee Institute, 1934-35; President, Tuskegee Institute, 1935-53; President, Phelps-Stokes Fund, 1953-70.

Author: Chronicles of Faith: The Autobiography of Frederick Douglass Patterson, University of Alabama Press, 1991; The College Endowment Funding Plan, American Council on Education, 1976; Robert Russa Moton of Tuskegee and Hampton, University of North Carolina Press, 1956,

Awards: Honorary Doctorates from Lincoln University, Virginia State University, and Wilberforce University; Presidential Medal of Freedom, 1987; Spingam Medal, 1988,

Houston College. Although called a college, Sam Houston also had primary and high school divisions too. I didnt object to school, but I didnt do much with I, Patterson said in Chronicles of Faith. At the time I didnt take my studies seriously. I finished the eighth grade many whippings later. His classmates that year voted Frederick least likely to succeed.

From the eighth grade through the end of High School Patterson attended another boarding school at a college. This one was at Prairie View College, where his parents had attended. Bessie had secured a job teaching and directing the choir at the school, so the two of them lived together there in Prairie View, Texas. During the summers, he took odd jobs to earn money. One of these was as a driver for a wealthy family. Although Frederick had never driven before applying for the position, he got the job and taught himself to drive. He also taught himself how to play tennis, which became a lifelong hobby. Patterson says he became interested in school when he had to do his work study in the Agriculture Department of the school. He worked for two veterinarians his last couple years of high school. It motivated him so much, spending time with the animals, that he decided he would go to college to become a veterinarian.

College Years

Because the veterinarians he worked with at Prairie View had attended Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, Patterson decided that he too would go to Iowa for schooling. Since being an out-of-state student is more expensive than being a commuter, Patterson moved to Ames and lived there awhile before he registered for school. Frederick Patterson worked many different jobs while putting himself through veterinary school. He worked at a hotel, washing and ironing clothes, cooking, being a janitor, and running a rug cleaning business. Anything to make ends meet. He lived with six other people on the second floor of a business. He was one of very few black students at Iowa State at that time, and for a while, the only black student in the veterinary program. Patterson said in Chronicles of Faith that the only time he had problems with discrimination was when he had to go to military camp one summer in college. Part of his schooling was paid for by the Student Army Corps. He spent the summer training with the Army and was a reserve when he finished school in exchange for the Army paying for some school. At this camp students were segregated by race for dinner. He and one other black student ate at a separate table from all the other white students. Dr. Patterson says that after he returned to Iowa State the other students that had also been at the military camp treated him differently than they had before they went, they treated me as a pariah, said Patterson. I learned a lesson with regard to race that I never forgot: how people feel about you reflects the way you permit yourself to be treated. If you permit yourself to be treated differently, you are condemned to an unequal relationship.

Frederick graduated with a veterinary medicine degree in 1923. He moved to Columbus, Ohio to live with his brother John. He only stayed a short time in Ohio, but did manage to pass the examination for licensure of veternarians in that state. It was shortly after that Patterson was offered a job as professor of veterinary medicine and chemistry at Virginia State University in Petersburg, Virginia. Patterson worked for three years teaching at Virginia State and decided he would return to Iowa State for his masters degree. Once he completed his masters, he was promoted to Director of the Agriculture program at Virginia State. After being on the job for only a year, Patterson accepted a job with Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University) in Tuskegee, Alabama. It was a more important place to research and teach Patterson explained in his book.

Patterson taught bacteriology and was head of the Veterinary Department at Tuskegee. In 1932 he took a leave from his job to earn his doctoral degree from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. After being back a year at Tuskegee, Dr. Patterson was made head of the Agriculture Department there. He only remained on that job for a year before he was named President of Tuskegee. That same year he married Catherine Moton, daughter of Robert Russa Motón, the former President of Tuskegee. Many people at first were not happy with Patterson as President. They thought he had gotten the job because he married Mr. Motons daughter. Dr. Patterson however managed to quell the talk when he took the school from the brink of bankruptcy and stabilized Tuskegees money flow within a few years of becoming President.

Among changes at Tuskegee brought about by Frederick Patterson was the new division of domestic service, with a four year program in nutrition and personal services. He also began a program which changed how sharecroppers and poor farmers lived. Wood for houses had become expensive, so with the help of the School of Mechanical Industries, Patterson designed a house of concrete block. The materials for this house could be found on most farms as the concrete was made with the local clay soil and a little concrete. Soon such houses were appearing all over the south. Patterson also started the George Washington Carver Foundation in 1940. This fund was used to encourage and fund scientific research by African Americans.

One of the more well-known feats of Pattersons administration was the start of the black Army Air Corps at Tuskegee. The school initially used a former cow pasture as the runway. Several pilots were recruited and instruction began. This program led to the group of pilots known as the Tuskegee Airmen, well-known for their bravery in World War II. Although Dr. Patterson drew some flack for the program because of the discriminatory policies of the military, the program was a commercial success with extensive training for black pilots in military and commercial fields.

According to The New York Times, Dr. Patterson soon learned that the schools continuing leadership role brought letters from other schools asking for advice on how to raise money. In 1943 he wrote a column in The Pittsburgh Courier proposing the creation of a consortium of black colleges that would raise money for their mutual benefit. about one year later in 1944, 27 schools came together to form the United Negro College Fund. The first year the UNCF raised over 750,000 dollars for its member colleges. These days a yearly telethon hosted by entertainer Lou Rawls raises millions for the organization and is its most prominent fundraiser. This act by Dr. Patterson is viewed my many as his most important act during his life. He served as President of the UNCF from 1964-66.

In 1953 Frederick Patterson retired from Tuskegee. He became president of the Phelps Stokes Fund. Phelps Stokes was started in 1901 and funds the education of African students as well as African American and Native American students in the United States. Dr. Patterson was president of the fund from 1953-70. It was during this work that he organized the Cooperative College Development Program to assign federal money to pay for the improvement and maintenance of the black colleges physical plant.

In 1970 Dr. Patterson left Phelps Stokes to head up the Robert R. Moton Institute. This institute was established to boost the endowments of black colleges. It has served as a stabilizing influence for several schools because of cutbacks in federal funding in the last several years. In 1987 Patterson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Ronald Reagan. In 1988 he was awarded the NAACP Spingam Medal for his belief that human productivity and well-being in a free society are the end products of determination and self-preparation.

On April 26, 1988, Frederick Douglass Patterson died in New Rochelle, New York. Donald Stewart former president of the College Board of the National Association of Schools and Colleges called Dr. Frederick Patterson a visionary and pioneer in American higher education and in Black American higher education, in The New York Times. He broke new ground for minority students and was always looking ahead into the next decade for new ways to finance education. In memory of his many years of service and dedication to his job the UNCF in 1996 announced the founding of the Frederick D. Patterson Research Institute. It will be the first major research center devoted to black educational data and policy.



Patterson, Frederick D., Chronicles of Faith: the Autobiography of Frederick Douglass Patterson, University of Alabama Press, 1991.

Salzman, Jack, David Lionel Smith and Cornel West, eds. Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History, Simon & Schuster, 1996


Current Biography Yearbook, 1947.

Jet, July 27, 1987, p. 22; May 16, 1988, p. 8

Newsday (Long Island, NY), April 28, 1988, p. 49.

The New York Times, April 27, 1988, p. B8.


Frederick D. Patterson Research Institute, Press Release, February 22, 1996.

Stephen Stratton

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"Patterson, Frederick D. 1901–1988." Contemporary Black Biography. . 13 Dec. 2017 <>.

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Frederick Douglas Patterson

Frederick Douglas Patterson

Frederick Douglas Patterson (1901-1988) was president of Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute and creator of the United Negro College Fund.

In 1935 Frederick Douglas Patterson became president of Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute, one of the foremost African American institutions of higher education in the country. His stated purpose at the time of his inauguration was not only to increase the vocational training of his students but also to raise them to higher levels of academic competency and thus make them more qualified wage earners. He is also remembered for his creation in 1943 of the United Negro College Fund, an organization dedicated to raising and distributing scholarships to deserving minority students.

School Lunches

After adding courses on the principles of nutrition and dietetics to the curriculum of Tuskegee, Patterson oversaw the adoption and growth of the federally sponsored school-lunch program. He felt that this program must be expanded because academic achievement rested on a strong nutritional base, which many underprivileged children lacked. He firmly believed that for Tuskegee to thrive, the school had to reach its potential students before they fell victim to poverty.

The Carver Foundation

In the early 1940s Patterson's administration also established the George Washington Carver Foundation, which provided grants and monies to qualified students. Begun in 1940 by Carver himself, the foundation nearly doubled its assets in six years, rising from thirty-three thousand dollars to sixty thousand dollars. The fund expanded its base by undertaking research from commercial firms, and by 1947 eleven students working under grants were researching in paper, ink, foods, and animal nutrition.

Creation of the United Negro College Fund

In 1943 Patterson called a meeting of the heads of all of the major predominantly black institutions of higher education to plan a joint fund-raising venture. The result was the organization of the United Negro College Fund, of which he was elected president. Originally twenty-seven institutions joined the organization, which was incorporated in New York. By 1945 the group had grown to thirty-two members, and by 1947 the organization was raising more than a million dollars annually.

National Committees

As a member of President Harry S Truman 's Commission on Higher Education, Patterson helped file a 1947 report calling for the reorganization of higher education in the United States. The commission listed as its main priority doubling the number of students attending college. It also called for more types of scholarships, fellowships, and grants and called for the end of segregation—not because of ethical questions but because of the duplication of separate but comparable black and white programs. The commission also called for free education for all through the junior college level and a lowering of tuition and fees at colleges, graduate schools, and professional schools. Most of these suggestions were not enacted.


In 1946 Patterson's plan to improve the housing of farmers earning substandard incomes was reported and discussed in The New York Times . He felt that these lower-class tenants could create building blocks and erect fireproof structures inexpensively. This report attracted several potential investors, models were built on the Tuskegee campus, and the students constructed a four-room house for a neighboring farmer. As in other ventures, Patterson was in housing a man of vision and versatility.

Further Reading

Frederick D. Patterson, Chronicles of Faith: The Autobiography of Frederick D. Patterson (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1991). □

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