Otelia Cromwell Day 2019

Tribute to Adelaide Cromwell ’40

I met Dr. Adelaide McGuinn Cromwell in the mid 1980’s as a student at Boston University. Professor Gulliver, as she was known then, was my sociology professor in Afro American Studies, and one of only two black professors I had as an undergraduate student. Adelaide was always passionate and enthusiastic about the material she presented in class naming for me for the first time gifted, talented black women activists of historical distinction. Through her leadership and acumen, I became acquainted with such giants as Mary Church Terrell, Ida. B. Wells, and Mary McCloud Bethune. The experience prompted me to declare sociology as a minor in my junior year.

Having grown up in Boston, I was not readily exposed to black role models or this aspect of American history. From Adelaide’s class I discovered something that was missing in my life’s perspective: the undeniable power of womanhood; of educated women who believed in organizing, and producing thought into action. This noted power of resilience and competence changed my life and raised my expectations about the importance of women, particularly black women in mass movements and local communities.

So, when I think about Adelaide Cromwell (Smith class of 1940), first black faculty member at Smith College (1945-1947), I see a change maker, a risk taker, an intellectual guide, a teacher of special prominence. Now, I don’t recall that Adelaide executed any particular noteworthy teaching style but do know that her curriculum in the Afro American Studies program that she co-founded at BU ignited a spark in me around black woman leadership.

Even at age 99 Adelaide cultivated intellectual curiosity in those around her, as expressed at the memorial in her honor at BU on Tuesday. Years after our initial meeting I would serve as her campus contact for Otelia Cromwell Day for nearly a decade. We had a good relationship. It was a simple formula. She called me up; told me what to do; and I did it. As much as I was responsible for the logistics of her travel to campus, and itinerary schedule, I was also someone to whom she would speak frankly. She shared with me her disdain for the College’s commissioned watercolor portrait of Otelia Cromwell by Richard Yarde, and the story behind Otelia’s portrait she commissioned from Georgine Hill. She even mailed me a copy of the letter she sent to Yale chastising it for a portrait of her Aunt by one of Yale’s graduate students.

Adelaide had high hopes for students. She wanted them to pursue knowledge that helped them kindle diverse perspectives. She thought students should break out of their silos and learn about the world in which they live by befriending those who were different from themselves. She was a firm believer in standing up for principles, one‘s values and for what one believed in, like her Aunt Tee. She believed in being uninhibited by current realities and explore the possibilities. If you read any of Adelaide’s books (which by the way are on display at the exhibit in Nolen Art Lounge), you would see this pattern of thought and history dating back to Willis Hodges Cromwell, her great grandfather.

Adelaide always talked about Otelia in glowing terms and with words of admiration and gratitude for her role as a “Mothering Aunt.” Once when she led a workshop at Otelia Cromwell Day at about age 95, she couldn’t understand why students had not read her book about Otelia if they really expected to ask good questions.

It is truly my honor and distinct pleasure to pay tribute to Adelaide for:

Her unyielding wit and feistiness;

Her beautiful contagious smile;

Her tendency to speak truth to power;

Her dignified alluring manner;

Her Charismatic spirit;

Her fierce defense of the Cromwell family legacy;

Her support of Boston Latin Students where I went to high school.

We will miss our dear honored guest at the annual Otelia Cromwell Day celebrations. But I also thank her for leaving her son, Tony Cromwell Hill who is with us today and here to carry on the Cromwell legacy.

In the words of Dr. Vivian Johnson, a close friend and colleague of Adelaide’s at BU, she was a “brilliant example of black womanhood that influenced my life” and displayed “strength in struggle.” So all of you Smithies who struggle for balance; who struggle for equity, or inclusion, or visibility, or personal triumph as you define it, or the recognition of your humanity, you are in good company in a fellow alum known as Adelaide Cromwell.

Remarks made by Kim Alston, Otelia Cromwell Day, November 7, 2019



She was an original.

Wise, witty,

Charming –

Beautiful and smart.


She hailed from the nation’s capital

With distinguished ancestral Cromwell roots.


She studied from the best –

From Dunbar to Smith, to U. of Penn, and Radcliffe;

And hobnobbed with such leaders as

Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana,

And cousin Ed Brooke of Massachusetts.


She published works on –

Boston’s Black Brahmins;

African Feminist Adelaide Casely Hayford; and

The Cromwell Family Tree.


Because of Adelaide,

Governmental projects were implemented in Africa,

And Boston University, as well as Boston, Massachusetts

Were enhanced by her vision, creativity and achievements.


Because of Adelaide,

Boston University’s African Studies was co-founded,

And its African American Studies was founded

Through a systematic, intellectual process,

Rather than student protests and campus unrest.


Because of Adelaide,

Several hundred graduates

Are now contributing significantly to the world,

Having been educated through her Programs.


Because of Adelaide,

I became her administrative assistant fifty years ago,

And was schooled every day

On academic politics, Africa, sociology, and life!


Because of Adelaide,

I was later hired at the age of twenty-five

To direct the Black Studies Program at Simmons

And to teach music in its College.


Because she inspired me to become

A professor, an administrator, author, and mother,

And provided a blueprint of how to navigate an academic life,

I shall forever be grateful.


Adelaide Cromwell’s love and legacy

Will live on in many hearts, minds, and institutions.

May she rest eternally in Peace

From a near-century life well lived!


Marva Griffin Carter

Georgia State University

Atlanta, Georgia

October 18, 2019


A Tribute to Adelaide M. Cromwell

Smith College ‘40

I met Adelaide Cromwell thanks to a graduate school mentor who cared about the next phase of my life. That person was the Columbia University Anthropologist, Elliott Skinner.  Not only did he share and nurture my interest in Africa; he also co-chaired my dissertation committee in Political Science.  The dissertation was on the role of chiefs as linkage figures in African politics.

Skinner was my first Black professor. For five years he tutored me in the ways of The Academy. More importantly, he allowed me to see how he crafted a scholarly life that intersected with lay communities in Harlem, power brokers in official Washington, and his African colleagues who resided on the Continent. In 1975, as I prepared to move from New York to Boston for a position in Tufts University’s Political Science Department, Skinner dipped into his storehouse of African wisdom and gave me some advice:

When you go to Boston, you’ll be a stranger. So, you must do what a stranger does when arriving in a new village.  Introduce yourself to The Chief. There are 3 Chiefs you should meet in Boston. All three are African-American Professors at major universities; they study Africa:  Martin Kilson at Harvard, Willard Johnson at MIT, and Adelaide Cromwell Hill at Boston University.  Schedule an office appointment with each one and let them know that you are my student.

Skinner had authored a seminal article on “Strangers in West African Societies,” and I found his advice convincing. Adelaide was my first Boston Chief.

I knew of Adelaide Hill by reputation but was surprised by the welcoming warmth of her broad smile.  We met in her Boston University office at the Graduate Program of African American Studies, where she served as Founding Director for more than a decade. Calling attention to a group picture on her wall, she pointed to her aunt Otelia Cromwell, who was one of the experts convened by W.E.B. DuBois to discuss the production of an Encyclopedia Africana. From then on, the rest of the conversation was about me.

Adelaide named four young Black women Assistant Professors at universities in the Boston area and asked if I knew them.  In response to my No, she told me we should meet. In less than a month Adelaide convened a meeting at her office, and after the introductions, told us we should get to know each other by working on a collaborative research project. That was my first lesson on the importance of building networks of scholarly collaboration.

Over the years, Adelaide and I shared our mutual interest in Africa with stories of our respective travels.  Her earliest African engagements were at the behests of Presidents – John Kennedy, Kwame Nkrumah, and Jimmy Carter – and often impacted national policy.  My early travels as a research scholar and an advisor to Oxfam America’s overseas projects took me to rural Africa – and focused on grass-roots, nongovernmental work. We often  joked that Adelaide did Mercedes Africa, while Pearl traveled in bush taxi Africa.

With time, Adelaide and I had so much to share and compare that our get-togethers became dinner with a sleep-over at her house. And we would each provide reading materials for the other.  The sleep-over dinners became our routine at her Brookline residence as well as during my mid-August visits to her home in Vineyard Haven.

For what turned out to be our very last visit, I prepared a reading list for Adelaide of books and journal articles  by a new generation of scholars in the U.S., the Caribbean and Africa who are now referencing her book Adelaide Casley-Hayford: An African Victorian Feminist. This work is now being cited in the literature on the Black Atlantic, the new Black Internationalism as by scholars of African women and Black feminisms in publications on the African continent. What really surprised and pleased me was that when I Googled Adelaide Casely-Hayford’s name looking for a picture, up popped two pages of Black women scholars and sheroes, spanning at least three generations.  And there in their midst was Adelaide Cromwell, a living legend … who would live on.

I printed out these materials—the bibliography as well as the photosets—and mailed the package to Adelaide. Several days later, she called to thank me. Then—speaking in soft but clear tones—she said there were a couple of typos, and pointed them out. I made the corrections and sent her another set.  She called again, thanked me, and we laughed.

For the role Adelaide Cromwell played in my life, I will be forever thankful.

Professor Pearl T. Robinson

Tufts University

November 4, 2019

(The Center for Religious and Spiritual Life works closely with the Office of Equity and Inclusion, which coordinates Cromwell Day.)

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