Berlinda Davison Mabson

Berlinda Davison, photo from 1919 Blue and Gold yearbookBerlinda Davison’s San Francisco roots run deep. She lived there for the majority of her life and was an influential leader in the African American community in the 1940s. But, she also spent some of her youth in Alaska. An article in the San Francisco Examiner in 1922 extolled Davison’s accomplishments and in a one liner mentioned that she graduated from Nome High School in Alaska – a fact that possibly opens up a window to understanding her origins. The U.S. Census of 1910 shows 209 Black residents in the entire state of Alaska just two years before Davison’s high school graduation in 1912. It is no wonder that she received special mention out of a graduating class of five seniors.  A document titled, A History of the Nome, Alaska Public Schools: 1899 to 1958 From the Gold Rush to Statehood,[1] provides data on the history of Nome High School showing Davison as “Linda” Davison – her first name shortened – describing her as the “Negro girl, brilliant and lovely, the first of her race to graduate from this ‘white’ high school.”

Complimentary headlines continued to follow Davison throughout her life. She enrolled at the University ofBerlinda Davison, photo from Cover of The Crisis – August 1922 California, Berkeley earning her A.B. degree in English in 1919, and her M.A. in Education in 1922. She was featured on the cover of The Crisis magazine, and in the following year the San Francisco Examiner reported on her continued success.[2] The headline read “Colored Girl Wins High Post.” It announced that Belinda [sic] Davison – her first and last name often misspelled in publications – received her A.B. degree from Berkeley in 1919; a high school teacher’s certificate in 1920, and was the first ‘colored’ girl to receive a degree of Master of Arts at the University of California, Berkeley. The article also noted that she would be leaving for Petersburg, Virginia to be an instructor in chemistry, education and mathematics at the Virginia Normal and Industrial Institute.[3] It went on to mention that her position was secured by two US Senators representing California (Hiram W. Johnson and Samuel Shortridge) for the “brilliant young colored girl.” The article names the topic of her thesis, Educational Status of the Negro of the San Francisco Bay Region, and it informs the reader that she received “Two flattering offers, from Tuskegee, Alabama and from a Missouri School for colored pupils.”[4]

Davison married Edward D. Mabson, a prominent San Francisco Lawyer who founded the first NAACP Chapter in San Francisco in 1915. She became the president of the San Francisco Branch of the NAACP in 1942. Her brother Stuart T. Davison was the first African American to graduate from the UC Medical School in 1918, and served as a First Lieutenant in the Medical Corps in World War I.

Berlinda Mabson Davison died in 1974, six years after her husband, and shortly before the death of her brother Stuart in 1975. The notice of her death made mention only of the fact that she was a San Francisco resident for over 74 years.

[1]A History of the Nome Alaska, Public Schools: 1899 to 1958 From the Gold Rush to Statehood, Poling, 1970, 39, 73

[2] San Francisco Examiner, San Francisco, California, Sept. 7, 1922, 7

[3] Virginia Normal and College Institute opened as a teacher training college for both male and female Black students in 1883 with 126 students and seven faculty members all of whom were Black. – Virginia State University (1882 -), January 10, 2010, Eligio Martinez.

[4] San Francisco Examiner, Thursday, September 7, 1922, 7

Photos from Blue and Gold Yearbook, 1919 and Cover of The Crisis – August 1922