Josephine Foreman Cole was a native San Franciscan who in 1943 became the first African American teacher in the San Francisco public school district. Cole’s mother Elizabeth Brown was born in San Francisco and was a faithful member of the Bethel A.M.E. church. Her father, Joseph Foreman, migrated to San Francisco from Kentucky. In 1909, he gained employment as the doorman at Shreve’s Jewelry Co. and became a legendary figure working there for an incredible 46 years.
Cole’s oral history appeared in 1978 as part of the oral history project Afro-Americans in San Francisco Prior to World War II. Cole describes her parents’ dedication to their daughters’ educational pursuits, and spoke of how her father would respond when family friends asked, “What are you educating those girls for, Joe? They’re only going to get married.” He would reply, “My girls are my wealth and they’re going to get everything I can place before them. They won’t have to work in anybody’s kitchen.” Cole describes her mother as the strict disciplinarian in the family and she would remind her daughters, “Girls, you’re both girls and you’re Colored, so you’re going to have to do twice as much to get half of what the Whites have.”
Cole entered Berkeley earning her A.B. degree in Economics in 1929. Her oral history reveals that as a fellow San Franciscan, she knew Berlinda Davison Mabson and that she had joined the Deltas founded by Vivian Osborne. However, Cole decided sorority life was not for her so she left the organization. After graduation, she hoped to become a teacher right away and passed the written and oral exams. But, her career stalled when the Board of Education failed to place her. She was finally assigned to Raphael Weill Elementary School in 1943. Shortly thereafter she met and married Audley Cole, the first Black San Francisco motorman for MUNI. During this time, Cole set her sights on teaching Secondary School. In spite of ranking first in testing, she was passed over for three years. in 1948, at long last, she was placed at Balboa High School where she taught until she retired in 1963.
In 1992, The Southeast Library of San Francisco State University was named the Josephine Cole Library in her honor, and in 1995 the Board of Supervisors named her as an outstanding community leader of San Francisco.
Photo from 1948, courtesy of UC Berkeley Bancroft Library
Oral History Project: Afro-Americans in San Francisco Prior to World War II, Friends of the San Francisco Library – Josephine Cole, 1978, p.11