Gertrude Elise Ayer, Black Educator Hall of Fame

E’ry day this month, the Center for Black Educator Development, in partnership with, will highlight a Black Educator Hall of Famer.

But, don’t forget, e’ry month is Black History Month. February is just the Blackest.

Today, our featured Black educator is Gertrude Elise Ayer.

Gertrude Elise Ayer was born in New York City, NY on October 13, 1884. Her father, Dr. Peter Augustus Johnson, was one of the first African-American doctors and a founder of the National Urban League. Ayer attended schools in New York; elementary and secondary schools.

She was the first African-American graduate of the Girls’ Technical School in 1903 and was elected president of her senior class. She went on to attend the New York Training School for Teachers and graduated with her teaching certificate in 1905. She also took classes at Hunter College, NYU, CUNY, and Columbia.

Ayer began teaching at age twenty-one in New York City public elementary schools in 1905, and she was the first vocational guidance instructor in an elementary school. While she never got a college degree, she said, “Too many people with B.A.s only know their subject matter and don’t know how to teach.” In 1924 and 1936, Ayer was appointed assistant principal and principal, respectively—the only Black person to hold the position of principal within the New York City public school system. 

Ayer was a part of a community forum of interracial prominent New Yorkers who evaluated the conditions of its city and changes that needed to be made. She testified in the hearings and discussed how she wanted to work to gain the trust of parents, enforce a more relaxed atmosphere, and help provide relief for families struggling. This activism helped her become one of the first pioneers to originate the Activity Program, which placed a large emphasis on intercultural curriculum. 

“Too many people with Bachelor’s degrees only know their subject matter and don’t know how to teach.”

Gertrude Elise Ayer, Black Educator Hall of Famer

In addition to her work as an educator, Ayer worked as an industrial secretary at the local branch of the National Urban League as well as an executive secretary for the Trade Union Committee for Organized Negro Workers. Her work with the Urban League helped bring attention to the working conditions of Black women in New York City. Her work with the trade union committee caught the attention of activists like Dr. W.E.B. DuBois.

Her generous participation in numerous organizations and principalships—as the first Black person, in many instances—is indicative of her social philosophy. She passed on June 10, 1971, at the age of 86.

Gertrude Elise Ayer; a member of the Black Educator Hall of Fame.

For more information on Gertrude Elise Ayer, visit the following site.


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