History You Should Know: Oklahoma’s first Black public school principal Lena Lowery Sawner

Oklahoma’s first Black public school principal Lena Lowery Sawner was a prominent in the state and national Black educational organization. Lowery-Sawner was also the first female public school principal. Lowery-Sawner went to the University of Chicago, where she took her A. B. degree in 1902.


Once Lowery-Sawner graduated she went back to Oklahoma and began teaching at the Douglass School, an Black elementary school in Newkirk, Oklahoma. She was the city’s Black teacher and later became the principal of the Douglass School in 1902. She served in that role until failing eyesight made her retire in 1934.

In 1903 Lowery married George Sawner, a businessman, attorney, and political activist. The couple had no children of their own but fostered two children, Grace McCormick and Nell Margaret Beridon.

Lowery-Sawner also played important roles in the development of education in Oklahoma. In 1911, Lee Cruce, the second Governor of Oklahoma, appointed her to be a delegate to the National Negro Educational Congress held in Denver, Colorado. She was also a member of the Oklahoma Association of Negro Teachers, a group instrumental in improving the skills of Black teachers, and beginning in 1910 her Douglass School was the first county school to provide free adult education and literacy classes (The Daily Oklahoman, 25 Oct. 2016).

Lowery-Sawner passed away on March 1, 1949, in Chandler, Okla. She was 74 years old at the time of her death.


Pounds, W. (2022, April 06). Lena Lowery Sawner (1874-1949). BlackPast.org. https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/lena-lowery-sawner-1874-1949/

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