For the second time in three years, pioneering Rochester educator Dr. Alice Young has been honored in the New York State Senate.
In 2018, Sen. Rich Funke, then representing the 55th District where Young lives, had her named a “Woman of Distinction.” Funke did not run for re-election and was replaced in the 55th District by Samra Brouk, who announced last week that Young had been awarded a Liberty Medal, something Brouk called the Senate’s “highest honor.”
I don’t know what any of these awards and recognitions actually mean, but there’s no question that Dr. Young, now 97 years old, deserves all the honors she gets.
She has two main claims to fame: first, in 1962 she became the first Black building principal in the Rochester City School District when she was assigned to School 24. She later oversaw the federal funding for RCSD’s desegregation efforts in the late 1960s, an experience that she analyzed in her 1969 doctoral dissertation. Second, in 1961 she was one of the founding trustees of Monroe Community College and would go on to serve nearly 40 years, including 20 years as chairwoman of the board.
As female leader during a time of great misogyny, Dr. Young came up with novel ways to defeat gender discrimination. She broke her fellow MCC trustee’s habit of addressing her as Mrs. James Young but refusing to respond to her husband’s name. In 1970 she became one of the first female educators in the Rochester to wear pants to work after seeing a painting crew looking up teachers’ skirts on the floor above them.
I talked with Dr. Young at great length for my book research. If you’d like to learn more about her, she sat for a lengthy oral history interview in 1980 that is part of the Phillis Wheatley collection, listed on the resources page of my site. There is also a short biography titled Tearing Down Fences, written by Sally Parker and self-published last year. It’s available through the Monroe County Library System.
By virtue of longevity and passion for education, Dr. Young and Walter Cooper have become icons of Rochester’s early fight for equality in education. Dr. Cooper has a school named after him, and if RCSD were to think of renaming another building — say, one of the several named for slave owners — Dr. Young would be a worthy honoree.