Gloria Robinson Lowry

Gloria Robinson Lowry ’52

retired elementary school teacher
Pasadena, Calif.

In the 66 years since her graduation, Gloria Robinson Lowry ’52 has watched the world transform. The first African American woman to graduate from William Smith, Lowry spent decades creating inclusive environments as a fifth grade teacher. We turned to Lowry to ask:

Q: What was the greatest challenge you faced as a teacher?

A: “The world has changed significantly over the years, but the basic education system hasn’t changed much at all. My classes were made up of children of cultures from all over the world, and I embraced that. When you have an education system that is trying to teach children from 20 different countries, it’s really a challenge, and I frequently asked myself ‘what can we do?’ when it comes to helping these children thrive and connect with each other. We made cookbooks that included dishes from the places our families were from. What was striking for children in elementary school is how many things throughout the world were similar, but affixed under a different name. They could look at the person next to them and say, ‘We really have more in common than we thought.’

The Visionary

In a career spanning from the civil rights movement to a new millennium, Gloria Robinson Lowry ’52 is a trailblazer in her own right. The retired teacher was the first African American woman to graduate from William Smith College, earning her degree in 1952 with a degree in economics and as president of her class.

“I was a bit hesitant that I would be the only African American girl there, but I had a wonderful English teacher in high school who was familiar with the Colleges. She said, ‘Oh, Gloria, I do think you need to go to William Smith.’ My parents and I were convinced,” says Lowry, who devoted most of her time at HWS to academics, but cherishes reflections of afternoons with her friends by the lake and the first blooms after a Geneva winter. “I have only fond memories of what was a wonderful part of my life.”

Lowry’s legacy remains on campus with an award named in her honor that annually recognizes a William Smith student of color who has demonstrated a commitment to justice and inclusivity. In many ways, Lowry’s impact harkens back to the profound influence her own mother had on the next generation.

“My mother’s main thrust in life was trying to make African American women understand that they could be anything and do anything, and whatever resources were out there, they needed to know how to use them,” says Lowry, who found education at the center of her life early on. “She made sure my brothers and I grew up to understand that there wasn’t anything that we could not do, and that’s what we went for. She was quite something to follow.”

Lowry would carve her own path in Pasadena, Calif., where she spent decades putting her teaching salary toward empowering the children in her own life. As the world shifted around Lowry and her classroom, she moved forward at full-speed, traveling to dozens of countries in six continents with her husband John. “There aren’t too many places in the world we didn’t touch,” says Lowry, who would bring her students stories of other cultures, her adventures and remnants of her journeys. Egyptian scrolls and parchments were particular favorites for her fifth graders.

“I retired in 2000, but I still think about those kids every day,” she says. “It really was what I was meant to do.” –Morgan Gilbard ’15


Preparing Students to Lead Lives of Consequence.