Eva Beatrice Dykes was the first Black woman to fulfill the requirements for a doctoral degree and the third African American woman to receive a Ph.D. Two other Black women, Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander and Georgiana Simpson, receive their doctoral degree in the same year as Dykes but because their respective commencement ceremonies took place earlier, Dykes is considered the third woman to receive the advanced degree.
Eva Dykes was born in Washington, D.C. in 1893, and attended M Street High School which was later renamed Paul Dunbar High School. In 1914, twenty-one year old Dykes graduated Summa Cum Laude from Howard University with a B.A. in English. After spending one year teaching at Walden University in Nashville, Tennessee, she decided to seek a Master’s Degree at Radcliffe College, an all women’s college which is now a part of Harvard University. Radcliffe, however, would not accept her degree from Howard, forcing Dykes to earn a second B.A. in English from the Massachusetts institution in 1917. Nonetheless she graduated Magna Cum Laude, and the following year earned an M.A. from Radcliffe. While at Radcliffe Dykes was elected to Phi Beta Kappa.
In 1920 Dykes began teaching at Dunbar High School, and in 1921 she received a PhD from Radcliffe (now a part of Harvard University). Her dissertation was titled “Pope and His influence in America from 1715 to 1815”, and explored the attitudes of Alexander Pope towards slavery and his influence on American writers.
Dykes was the first African American woman to complete the requirements for a doctoral degree, however, because Radcliffe College held its graduation ceremonies later than some other universities, she was the third to graduate, behind Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander and Georgiana Simpson.
In 1929, she accepted a position teaching English at Howard University. Dykes remained on the Howard faculty until 1944. While there she published a number of scholarly works including The Negro in English Romantic Thought which reflected her growing interest in examining Black history and literature in England.
A member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church since 1920, Dykes left Howard University in 1944 to begin teaching at the Seventh-day Adventist institution for African Americans, Oakwood College in Huntsville, Alabama. While a faculty member there, she helped the school to gain accreditation. Dykes retired from full-time teaching in 1968.
For 50 years, from 1934 to 1984, Dykes wrote a regular column for the Adventist publication Message Magazine. The library at Oakwood College is named in her honor. Eva Beatrice Dykes died in Huntsville, Alabama in 1986 at the age of ninety-three.