Hattie (Fannings) Gaskin '39, Earliest Known Black Student, Left Great Legacy

Charter members of the Beta Psi Chapter of Delta Sigma ThetaHattie (Fannings) Gaskin ’39 came to Pacific University in 1935 after graduating from Portland’s Jefferson High School. At Pacific, she was actively involved with the Heart of Oak Yearbook, the publications council and the Theta Nu Alpha sorority, and she built relationships with friends who would remember her their entire lives.

But she also faced immense challenges.

Pacific has admitted students of all races and genders since its founding in 1849, but Hattie is the earliest Black student currently identified in university records.

“Looking back, I think it must have been a very lonely life for her sometimes,” recalled classmate Georgena Potts ’38, upon Hattie’s 1981 death. “Forest Grove wasn’t ready for interracial dating at that time, though I know she had lots of opportunities.”

Potts, who died in 2017, wrote about when Theta Nu Alpha sorority members invited Hattie to pledge.

“One of our faculty (wife) advisors said we were making a grave mistake and threatened to resign from her post,” Georgena wrote. The Theta students stood by the invitation, and several junior and senior sorority members responded to the advisor by saying, “Oh? Well, it’s been nice knowing you. Goodbye.”

Georgina recalled the advisor stayed but “not very enthusiastically.”

Charlotte (Vanebo) Holmes ’40, who died in 2019, also fondly remembered Hattie’s contributions as a fellow member of the publications council and expressed remorse that they lost touch.

Hattie left Pacific in 1938, as did many students amidst the Great Depression. Her sophomore class yearbook featured 48 students in the class; by their senior year, only 30 remained.

Hattie married and had four children, later forged on to complete her education. In 1962, Hattie graduated from Portland State University. In 1964, she earned her master of social work, as a member of PSU’s first class of MSW alumni. She was a field instructor for the School of Social Work at PSU until her retirement in 1974.

Shortly after leaving Pacific, Hattie began working with Geneva Turner Jordan, and Lucille Triplett Morganto to found Portland’s chapter of Delta Sigma Theta. In 1945 they were joined by several others in chartering the Beta Psi Chapter, the first and only chapter in Oregon. The sorority and the Beta Psi chapter are still very active and dedicated to providing assistance and support through established programs in local communities throughout the world.  The Delta membership is comprised of predominantly Black, college educated women.

The work done by Hattie, and her friends who founded the Beta Psi chapter, lives on today. In recent months the Portland chapter has focused their efforts on support for the African American community during the COVID-19 pandemic, including testing, fundraising for women and children and calling attention to Black-owned businesses.

Pictured: Founding members of the Beta Psi/Portland Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta. Back Row: Hattie Fannings Gaskin, Florence Mills Morton, Lena Hillsman, June Runnels Key, Fannie Stills Chatman, Lucille Triplett Morgan. Front Row: Myrtle Dargan, Mabel Lockett Martin, Mignon Lilly Cabell, JoAnna Young Bradford, Geneva Turner Jordan. On the date of the chartering ceremony, Soror Myrtle Dargan (left), from California, sat in for Ellen Torrance, who had been assigned to overseas duty as a member of the American National Red Cross. — Beta Psi

Friday, June 5, 2020