Born Anna Pauline Murray, she chose to be called the gender non-specific Pauli, and we follow her preference. Pauli was a jurist and activist who contributed some of the legal groundwork to the civil rights movement. Early on in her life, Pauli was committed to pursuing an education and left Durham, NC, as a teenager to attend Hunter College in the 1920s and 1930s. Later, her failed attempt to study at the all-white University of North Carolina garnered national attention and established her as civil rights activist.
In 1965, Pauli became the first African-American to receive a JSD degree from Yale Law School. She wrote “Jane Crow and the Law: Sex Discrimination and Title VII” and “Roots of the Racial Crisis: Prologue to Policy,” both of which proved profoundly influential in challenging the legal foundations of racial discrimination.
Pauli was a trailblazer throughout her life. She wrestled with her gender identity, and her most intense romantic relationships were with women. She co-founded the National Organization for Women, serving as a vice-president of Benedict College in South Carolina, and becoming the first person to teach African-American Studies and Women’s Studies at Brandeis University. Later in her life, she became the first African-American woman ordained as an Episcopal priest, and received an honorary degree from the Yale Divinity School in 1979.
Pauli’s career reveals bravery, persistence, and diligence in her pursuit of an equal society. Her story and achievements continue to inspire the work of scholars and activists today.