First Woman to Graduate with a Bachelor’s Degree
After graduating from Birmingham’s Samuel Ullman High School (known today as UAB’s Ullman-Bell Complex), Mary Shepherd packed up her belongings and headed to Tuskegee University to pursue a degree in the sciences. During her junior year of college, she found out she was eligible to attend a state-supported school due to her husband’s status as a disabled veteran. In 1969, Mary and her husband moved back to Birmingham, and Mary transferred to UAB for her senior year. Adapting to UAB’s environment and academic requirements proved challenging. Being one of only a few African-American women in the program, she felt isolated and excluded, a far cry from her experience at Tuskegee. When her professor, Dr. Charles Crispens, saw her struggling, he stepped in to offer support—something Mary says she will never forget. Dr. Crispens inspired her stay in the program and encouraged her to focus on her course work and matriculation. In June 1970, Mary received her diploma, making her the first woman to ever graduate with a bachelor’s degree from the Department of Biology!
With her degree in hand, Mary had her heart set on teaching, so she returned to UAB to get a master’s degree in education. After receiving her certification, Mary spent 29 years teaching science in the Alabama public school system. Her longest tenure was at Hewitt-Trussville High School. In 2000, with her first grandchild on the way, Mary retired so that she could focus on her family. Nineteen years later, she and her husband are the proud grandparents of 10 grandkids. Outside of family time, Mary enjoys participating in her church, traveling, and serving her community.