Wilhelmina Henry honored as AD13’s Woman of the Year

Monday, March 9, 2015

Woman of the Year 2015

SACRAMENTO – Wilhelmina Henry, Stockton’s first black teacher, was honored on Monday as the 13th Assembly District’s Woman of the Year

Henry, 95, applied to teach in Stockton Unified School District in 1947, years before the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that desegregated the nation’s schools. At first rejected, Henry was hired after passing the district’s teacher test (required only of non-white applicants) with the highest score.

Born in Columbia, South Carolina, during the Jim Crow era, a young Henry loved learning and had an excellent role model for a career in teaching – her mother, who was also a teacher. Henry finished high school at 16 and graduated from the Tuskegee Institute at 20. She taught in South Carolina, Alabama and Georgia before moving to Stockton.

In Stockton, Henry first taught at Monroe School, which was demolished in 1968 to make way for the Crosstown Freeway. She retired from a 49-year teacher career from Roosevelt Elementary in 1996.

During her tenure at Stockton Unified, she was known as a compassionate and caring teacher who controlled her classroom without being too strict.  By all accounts, her students loved and respected her, even though her nickname was “Ms. Bad to the Bone.”  Long after her retirement, she explained the nickname: “It was a joke.” 

In 2006, Stockton Unified recognized Henry’s historic accomplishments by naming an elementary school for her. To this day, she visits Wilhelmina Henry Elementary School frequently, and maintains a scholarship fund for district students.