President’s Circle Featuring Ruth Helen Washington

Throughout Women’s History Month 2023, the Dr. Edna B. McKenzie Branch of ASALH presents brief features on a female Branch member or a family member of the Branch member.

Ruth Helen Washington, First Black Recipient of “An Outstanding Science Teacher” Award in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

At age 75, Ruth Helen founded FAGANY, Inc (Financial Aid to Gifted Needy Youth) and was able to award scholarships to qualifying students in the Philadelphia School District before turning it over in 2003 as the FAGANY Fund to the African American United Fund of Pennsylvania. 

Ruth Helen Washington is the only surviving charter member and past first president of the Dover Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta, Inc.  She was also a member of the Philadelphia section of the The National Council of Negro Women, Inc (NCNW).


Whenever 97 year old Ruth Helen Washington is asked where she was born, she responds proudly by saying,  “It was in the small town of Mayesville,  South Carolina, birthplace of Mary McLeod Bethune.” However, she grew up in Philadelphia,  Pennsylvania, and was raised by her aunt and uncle following the demise of her mother at three and half years old.

After graduating from West Philadelphia High School in 1942, she was able to attend college with the financial assistance of the New Deal program and graduated cum laude from Morgan State College in 1946 with a B.S. degree in Biology. She then enrolled in graduate school at Howard University after being awarded a fellowship. She graduated from Howard University in May 1948 with a M.S. degree in Zoology. 

In September of 1948, Ruth Helen was employed as an Assistant Professor of Biology at Delaware State College, an HBCU. Becoming an avid reader of Black History based on her awareness of the need to maintain her students’ levels of high self esteem, her goal was to include the contributions of Black people in her Biology lesson plans whenever possible.  

In June of 1962, Ruth Helen resigned from teaching college to accept the challenge of teaching in an urban high school in Philadelphia. In January 1963, she was appointed as a Science teacher at West Philadelphia High School (WPHS), her alma mater. All during her 23 years of service at WPHS, she clung to her belief that all children are gifted in one way or another and through her creative teaching strategies in Biology, demonstrated that many students assigned to non- academic classes could perform as well as academic students. Her unique teaching approach led to the Philadelphia School District appointing a re-evaluation committee first at WPHS then District-wide that carefully screened and evaluated students before assigning them to special and/or non-academic programs. 

Ruth Helen was the first Black recipient of “An Outstanding Science Teacher” award in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.  In 1975, she was listed in the “Outstanding Secondary School Teachers of America.” She has published in The Science Teacher and The Journal of African Civilization. Ruth Helen continued to receive numerous recognitions throughout her career. For many years, she had been a noted political advocate for the Black community and continues to be a woman with a strong faith in her God.  She was a long time active member of the Philadelphia Heritage Branch of ASALH and was honored by them in 2019 for her efforts on its behalf. At age 75, Ruth Helen founded FAGANY, Inc (Financial Aid to Gifted Needy Youth) and was able to award scholarships to qualifying students in the Philadelphia School District before turning it over in 2003 as the FAGANY Fund to the African American United Fund of Pennsylvania. 

In 2019, the McKenzie Branch was scheduled to present a Certificate of Lifetime Achievement to Mrs. Washington at a ceremony at the Vincentian Home, located in the Stanton Heights section of Pittsburgh.  But due to the pandemic we were unable to hold the ceremony.  The certificate was later delivered by hand. 

*Ruth Helen Washington is the mother of McKenzie Branch member Diane Carroll. 


Ronald B. Saunders, President of Dr.Edna B. McKenzie Branch of ASALH

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