Celebrating International Black Women’s History Month: Yvonne Walker-Taylor
By Daniel Willis, Gradute Student at Wright State University
I am an intern at the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center. For the last several months I have had the pleasure of processing the Yvonne Walker-Taylor manuscript collection where I have interacted with material from nearly every period of her life. Dr. Walker-Taylor’s collection contains an assortment of photos, letters, and memorabilia that reveal she lead a successful life and had enjoyed a successful career as an educator.
Yvonne Walker-Taylor was born in 1914 in Chelsea, Massachusetts to D. Ormonde Walker and Eva Emma Revallion. She was their only child. Her father was a minister, and later bishop, for the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church. She moved frequently because of her father’s work. Her earliest years were spent in Massachusetts before she later moved to Cleveland, Ohio. She attended Wilberforce University, where she graduated at age 19 with a bachelor’s degree, and then went on to Boston University where she earned a master’s degree. Later, in 1964, she completed an education specialist degree from the University of Kansas.
In 1955, Yvonne Walker-Taylor returned to Wilberforce and joined the faculty as a professor of French and English. She went on to work for the university for the next 34 years. In that time, she rose to the rank of dean, vice president, provost, and ultimately president of the university. She was the university’s sixteenth president, from 1984 to 1988, and the first woman to hold the title. She followed her father, Bishop D. Ormonde Walker, who served as the university’s tenth president from 1936 to 1941. Under Dr. Walker-Taylor’s leadership the university expanded its academic programs and extracurricular offerings, improved fundraising efforts, and instituted mandatory computer literacy courses for students. Among the notable academic changes under her leadership was the development of a Cooperative Education Program, it made Wilberforce the first black college to require cooperative education.
Like her father, Dr. Walker-Taylor was also involved with the AME Church. Between 1948 and 1956 she was the executive secretary of the fifth Episcopal district of the church. Later, she served as a member of the church’s Judicial Council; she was the first woman to be elected to the council. During her time at Wilberforce she also worked to strengthen ties between the church and the university, representing the university at church conference and creating an “adopt-a-student program” where churches sponsored Wilberforce students.
As a result of her work, Dr. Walker-Taylor received many accolades and awards during her life. Her involvement with the AME church earned her the 1985 Sarah Allen Award from the church’s Women’s Missionary Society. Additionally, she was inducted into the Ohio Women’s Hall of Fame in the year 2000. Dr. Walker-Taylor also developed a vast professional network and served in leadership positions for many organizations. While the list of professional members is vast, among her many notable achievements was her election to the chair of the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center planning council in 1985. The museum now houses many of her personal artifacts and papers.
Dr. Yvonne Walker-Taylor’s career in education lasted nearly three and a half decades and was spent entirely at Wilberforce University. She first joined the university’s staff 1955 when she was hired as a professor of French and English. She quickly became administrative assistant to the president upon starting as a faculty member. During the 1960s she was promoted to associate professor of English and became the Chair of the Teacher Education program. Over the next two decades she was promoted from her chair position to the Vice President of Academic Affairs. In this time, she also served as an Academic Dean and a Provost at the university. Between April and September of 1973, she was made acting president of the university by the board of trustee. With all her experience, it was no surprise when she was named the sixteenth President of Wilberforce University in 1984. Her promotion marked the first time a woman held the title at Wilberforce. She served as president for four years before finally retiring in 1988.
While serving as president, Dr. Walker-Taylor implemented many significant changes to the university’s academic offerings. She developed Wilberforce’s Cooperative Education Program which allowed students to gain experience in their future career fields while still earning college credit. This made Wilberforce the first black college to require cooperative experience. She also created a rehabilitation and health care program, adding more options for Wilberforce students to pursue. Dr. Walker-Taylor took great care to expand academic relationships with other institutions. As part of this effort she implemented a dual degree program in engineering in cooperation with the University of Dayton and created an “adopt-a-student” program with the American Methodist Episcopal Church. Both programs helped increase Wilberforce students’ access to education. In addition to academic improvements, Dr. Walker-Taylor also sought to improve the quality of life on campus by launching campus beautification and renovation projects throughout her presidency.
Yvonne Walker-Taylor being sworn in as the first woman president of Wilberforce University.
In addition to all her work at Wilberforce, during her presidency Dr. Walker-Taylor continued to serve in other professional organizations in her spare time. She worked with the American Association of University Women, the American Association of Higher Education, and others to further improve the lives of students across the nation. Even after Dr. Walker-Taylor retired from Wilberforce she continued working as an educator. 1990 she took a position as a presidential professor of education at Central State College (also in Wilberforce, Ohio). After Dr. Walker-Taylor passed away in 2006, her family developed the Dr. Yvonne Walker-Taylor Women for Women Scholarship Fund. The scholarship provides women with funding to help them pursue college education at Wilberforce University. To this day the scholarship continues to aid women in pursuing college degrees. It is a lasting testament to Dr. Walker-Taylor’s lifelong commitment to education.