From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)
Mary Ann Henderson.JPG

Adams, Mary A. Henderson

Mary Ann Henderson, from Lexington, KY, was the first African American to earn a degree while attending the University of Kentucky (UK). In 1949, She had earned a B.A. degree at Kentucky State College (now Kentucky State University) during the time that the University of Kentucky was segregated. At Kentucky State College, she majored in sociology and economics, and was a member of several organizations, including Beta Zeta Chapter of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, and a member of the Kentucky Thorobred yearbook staff [sources: Kentucky State College yearbooks - pp.45 & 66 in The Kentuckian, 48; and pp.2 & 30 in the Thorobred 1949].

Summer of 1949, Mary Ann Henderson enrolled in the UK College of Education and completed her master's degree in 1950 [source: University of Kentucky Eighty-Third Annual Commencement Exercises, Nineteen Hundred Fifty, p.46].  As a result of Lyman T. Johnson's lawsuit, the University of Kentucky had started the integration process in 1949, and Mary Ann Henderson was one of the more than 30 African American students to enroll for classes that summer. All of the African American students in 1949 were graduate students or they were enrolled in a professional program. 

The University of Kentucky was fully opened to African American undergraduates in 1954. Holloway Fields, Jr. had graduated from the UK College of Engineering in 1951, it was a professional program.

Mary A. Henderson was a school teacher in Cynthiana, KY, and in Lexington, KY, and she retired from teaching in 1989. In celebration of the success of Lyman T. Johnson's lawsuit and her graduation, Mary Ann Henderson Adams received a 2006 Torch Bearer Award [source: "Recognition of African American Women at the University of Kentucky," p.1].

Mary A. Henderson Adams was the wife of James R. Adams who was a civic leader in Lexington and a lay speaker with the United Methodist Church [source: Jennifer Hewlett, "James Adams, Methodist lay speaker dies," Lexington Herald-Leader, 12/11/1996, Obituaries, p.B2].

The attached photo image of Mary Ann Henderson comes from the 1949 Graduation Collage at Kentucky State University in Frankfort. The graduation collages, 1930-1962, are available online at the Kentucky State University website.

The Kentucky State yearbooks, 1916-2010, are available online at the Kentucky State University website.

Kentucky County & Region

Read about Harrison County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Fayette County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Kentucky Place (Town or City)

Read about Cynthiana, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Lexington, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Image Rights Information

The photo image of Mary Ann Henderson is provided with permission and at the Courtesy of Kentucky State University Special Collections and Archives. The image comes from the 1949 Kentucky State College Graduation Collage held at the Paul G. Blazer Library, Kentucky State University, Frankfort, KY.


Cited in this Entry

NKAA Entry: Fields, Holloway, Jr.
NKAA Source: University of Kentucky annual commencement exercises (serial)
NKAA Source: Recognition of African American Women at the University of Kentucky (unpublished manuscript)
NKAA Source: Kentucky State University yearbooks (online)

Cite This NKAA Entry:

“Adams, Mary A.Henderson,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed June 19, 2021,

Last modified: 2021-03-16 20:28:58