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There are no photos of these first students that are available as of yet. But I was able to find these photos of three Chinese students at Howard University: Leon Assing, Fong Affoo, and Choy Awah in 1870.

Photo source:




"...When Howard University opened on May 1, 1867, the first students were young white women—the daughters of members of the board of trustees and also members of First Congregational Church. And while, over the years, some would point to this fact as proof that the university was founded to “educate youth” regardless of sex and race, the early decades were a period of transition during which the university would remain cosmopolitan while becoming predominantly black. In Howard University: The Capstone of Negro Education, A History: 1867–1940 (1941), Walter Dyson states that in 1904, university president John Gordon, observing that the University was “drawing young men from Cuba, Porto [sic] Rico, Barbados, Trinidad, Japan… and from South America, and Asia and Africa,” declared in his inaugural address that “the directing hand of God” was assisting in making Howard University a school for the “colored races of all the continents”…“ and I am sure,” he continued, “that we shall find notable educators who will dedicate themselves, and men and women who will dedicate their estates to the work of making Howard the University of all the colored races.”

“Howard University was the brainchild of the First Congregational Society of Washington, D.C. (which later became the First Congregational Church and is now the First Congregational United Church of Christ), located at 945 G Street NW. The church’s first minister, C.B. Boynton, who concurrently served as chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives, proposed in November 1866 that it establish a theological seminary to educate African American clergymen. By the time the charter was issued four months later on March 2, 1867, the idea of a seminary had blossomed to that of a university. Section five of the charter organized the departments of normal (i.e., teacher education), college prep, theology, law, medicine and agriculture, as well as “such others as the board of trustees may establish.” The Normal Department opened two months later, followed by the Preparatory Department, which was designed to prepare students for college-level work. Soon to follow were the Theology Department, the Law Department and the Medical Department. The remaining department delineated in the charter, an agricultural department, “was never organized with a curriculum that would justify the name,” writes Logan in Howard University: The First Hundred Years, 1867–1967. Howard University was named for Oliver Otis Howard, a general in the army, an active member of First Congregational Church and one of the seventeen university founders to whom the charter was issued. He was also a Civil War hero and the first commissioner of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands, popularly known as the Freedmen’s Bureau. The Freedmen’s Bureau was established by President Abraham Lincoln in March 1865 to assist persons who were formerly enslaved. However, it lost most of its funding in 1869 and was disbanded by President Ulysses S. Grant in June 1872. Howard, while remaining on active duty in the army and serving as the commissioner of the Freedmen’s Bureau, also took on the presidency of the university, serving in that capacity from April 1869 to November 1873. From the university’s beginning, the Freedmen’s Bureau under Howard provided most of the financial support, as it did for approximately twenty-five other African American colleges. And in 1879, six years after the Freedmen’s Bureau’s demise, the federal government began annual appropriations to Howard University that continue to the present day as one of the university’s major sources of funds.”


— Dorothy Porter Wesley at Howard University: Building a Legacy of Black History (American Heritage) by Janet Sims-Woods

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