Hope: Fanny Ruth Patterson, Hinckley and Northern Illinois University


The story of Fanny Ruth Patterson is one of hope. She was a graduate of Hinckley High School and went on to be first Black woman to graduate from the Northern Illinois State Normal School (today’s Northern Illinois University) in 1915.  

William and Matilda Durette Patterson moved to Squaw Grove Township in 1903 with their three girls: Rosie, Fanny, and Maude, as well as their son, John. They moved to Hinckley in 1907, where Fanny graduated from high school in 1913. After graduation, she enrolled at Northern Illinois State Normal School, DeKalb, at the age of 21.  

When Patterson completed her two-year degree in 1915, Northern Illinois State Normal School’s President Cook wrote a letter of recommendation for her to the head of personnel for the St. Louis school system where she had applied for a teaching job. Cook wrote, “Fanny is an excellent girl, having good looks, good taste, extreme modesty of demeanor, and a good mind. She is a most excellent and interesting young woman and she has had the entire confidence of everybody with whom she has worked.” Cook recommended her for a position teaching English and History. While Fanny’s race was noted in a handwritten aside on her admission documents, that detail was not typically part of early student records.  

Fanny taught school in Cairo, Illinois, but contracted tuberculosis and died in 1920. She is buried at Greenwood Cemetery, Hinckley, Illinois.  

To celebrate her legacy, the NIU Black Alumni Council offers a scholarship to African American students in their junior or senior year. Applicants must be active in campus activities and submit a 500-word essay on the importance of obtaining a college degree. For more information on how NIU honors Patterson’s legacy, click here.

On July 4, 2022, NIU announced “NIU Celebrates African American Trailblazer by Renaming New Residence Hall.” During NIU’s Homecoming in October, the Ruth Patterson Complex will be named in her honor. To learn more click here. 

Image Courtesy of the Hinckley Historical Society 

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