Frederick D. Patterson

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Dr. Frederick Douglass Patterson (October 10, 1901–April 26, 1988) was the President of Tuskegee Institute and the founder of the United Negro College Fund.

Life and Education

Frederick Douglass Patterson

Dr. Frederick Douglass Patterson was born in Washington D.C. on October 10, 1901. His parents were Mamie Lucille and William Ross Patterson. They named him after Frederick Douglass, the abolitionist. Both parents died when Patterson was 2 years old of tuberculosis. He was raised by his older sister, Bessie.

Due to young Frederick being so gifted, Bessie used half of her monthly salary to send him to Samuel Huston College. Patterson went on to study agriculture at Prairie View Normal & Industrial Institute in Texas. He attended Iowa State College where he graduated in 1923 with a D.V.M. In his book, Chronicles of Faith, Patterson is quoted as saying, “In the veterinary program, I did not feel odd being a part of the group of students working in the veterinary clinic although I was the only black person there. The absence of animosity encouraged me to see veterinary medicine as a field in which I could practice without being hampered by the racial stereotypes and obstacles that would confront me as a medical doctor, for example. I found the teachers of Iowa State helpful whenever I approached them. Educationally, it was a fine experience.”

He also received a Master's degree in Science at Iowa State College in 1927. After leaving Ames, Patterson went on to receive a Doctorate of Philosophy from Cornell University.

He was invited to serve on the President Harry S. Truman's President's Commission on Higher Education from 1946-1947.

He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Ronald Reagan on June 23, 1987.

He died on April 26, 1988. He was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity.

HBCU Contributions

Dr. Patterson taught veterinary medicine at Virginia State College and eventually became the Director of Agriculture there. He went on to become the head of the Veterinary Division. He left Virginia State College to become the Director of the School of Agriculture at Tuskegee Institute. In 1935, at age 33, he became the President of Tuskegee Institute -- a role he served in from 1935-1953.

Over the course of his presidency, he is credited with transforming Tuskegee from an institute to a university with graduate programs that still exist today. He founded the School of Veterinary Medicine in 1944, the Commercial Dietetics program, and spearheaded the Engineering and Commercial Aviation programs.

In 1944, he also founded the United Negro College Fund. He was the director of the Phelps-Stokes Fund from 1958-1969. The Phelps-Stokes Fund worked to improve education for youth of all disadvantaged backgrounds. He also founded the Robert R. Moton Memorial Institute which worked to improve the recruitment and management processes of HBCUs nationwide.


The United Negro College Fund established the Frederick D. Patterson Research Institute (FDPRI) in 1996. It is the nation's foremost research institution regarding educational issues facing African Americans from pre-school to adulthood.