Frederick Douglass Patterson Biography

Educator (1901–1988)
African-American educator Frederick Douglass Patterson was president of Tuskegee University from 1935 to 1953. He founded the United Negro College Fund in 1940.


Frederick Douglass Patterson was born on October 10, 1901, in Washington, D.C. From 1935 to 1953, he was president of Tuskegee University, and in 1944, he founded the United Negro College Fund. In 1957, Patterson became president of the Phelps Stokes Fund. In 1975, he founded the College Endowment Funding Plan. Patterson won the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1987, and died on April 26, 1988, in New Rochelle, New York.

Early Years

African-American educational leader Frederick Douglass Patterson was born on October 10, 1901, in Washington, D.C. The youngest of five children, Patterson was named after abolitionist Frederick Douglass. Both of Patterson's parents died of tuberculosis when he was still a toddler, and at just 2 years old, he was sent to live with a friend of the family. When Patterson was 7, his older sister Bessie became his legal guardian.

Growing up, Patterson studied in the primary school and high school programs at Sam Houston College and Prairie View College in Texas. Following his high school graduation, Patterson earned a PhD in veterinary medicine at Iowa State College in 1927. He remained at Iowa State until 1927, at which time he was awarded his master's degree in science. Patterson received another PhD, from Cornell University, in 1932.

Educator and Philanthropist

Patterson started teaching veterinary science at Virginia State College in 1923, while he was still pursuing his higher education. In addition to serving a four year professorship at Virginia State, he also became the college's Director of Agriculture.

In 1928, Patterson took a position as head of the veterinary division of the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute, which was later renamed Tuskegee University. Patterson stayed with Tuskegee University for the next quarter century. During that time, he became director of the school of agriculture, and in 1935, university president. While serving out his administration, Patterson started a black Army Air Corps at Tuskegee. Patterson's air corps was a predecessor to the famed Tuskegee Airmen.

In 1940, Patterson founded the George Washington Carver Foundation, a non-profit organization that offered scientific research grants to African-American students. In 1944, he founded the United Negro College Fund, which continues to raise funding for historically black colleges and universities—including Tuskegee University.

Patterson retired as President of Tuskegee in 1953. Four years later, he became president of the Phelps Stokes Fund, an educational sponsor for minority students. Patterson left the position in 1970. In 1975, he was responsible for founding the College Endowment Funding Plan. The plan encouraged educational funding from private companies, using the incentive that the federal government would match those businesses' contributions. In 1985, President Ronald Reagan cited Patterson for his work with the program, and in 1987, Patterson received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The following year, he was awarded an 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."


Frederick Douglass Patterson died on April 26, 1988, in New Rochelle, NY. He was buried on the Tuskegee University campus. In 1996, the UNCF founded the Frederick D. Patterson Research Institute in his honor.

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