The University of Denver did not capture racial or ethnicity information on its students until the 1990s, which made the process for identifying early Black alumnae a challenge. Initially, the University Archives partnered with DU’s Sistah Network to identify students based on photographs present in the student yearbooks. We realized that assessment of racial and ethnic identity based solely on photographic evidence was flawed and problematic, and so decided to cross-reference our results with the decennial U.S. census, which gave us another source of evidence, but presented similar challenges.
In the summer of 2017, the Curator of Special Collections and Archives decided to review all issues of the Colorado Statesman from 1900-1945, Denver’s primary Black newspaper in search of community-identified alumnae. While time-consuming, this solved two methodological issues. First, it was a community-based source of information, meaning all identifications of race and ethnicity were made by the community members (or at least those on the Statesman editorial staff). Second, given community emphasis on education as a form of “racial uplift,” the Statesman’s coverage of Black students’ educational achievements in Denver, from high school graduation through college, was thorough and consistent.