February 17, 2023

Kindergarten Discovers the Paintings of Miss Alma Thomas

Kindergartners at Ferndale Lower Elementary learned about expressionist painter Alma Woodsey Thomas. In addition to a talented artist, Alma Thomas was gifted teacher and dedicated community advocate for arts and culture. Alma was proudly unmarried her entire life, committing her life's ambition to the development of herself and her community with outstanding results. She was the first woman in the US to earn a BFA in Fine Arts and the first African American woman to have a solo exhibition at the Whitney. Read more about Alma and her many landmark accomplishments. in our full article.

View a Google Slides Gallery of Alma Thomas expressionist paintings that inspired the project


Born in the oppressive racial climate of Columbus, Georgia in 1891, Alma's parents moved the family to Washington DC for a safer environment and to provide a post elementary education for their daughter. At the time, Columbus libraries would not even allow Black people into their libraries! Alma went on to teach Kindergarten before entering Howard University. Alma was initially drawn to textiles before selecting painting, a style she carried into her painting techniques. Eventually, she became the first Howard graduate to earn a BFA in Fine Arts, and perhaps the first woman in the US to earn this degree.

Alma returned to teaching for 35 years, founding a Fine Arts program at Shaw Junior High alongside fellow notable blues painter Malkia Roberts and founded a community arts project and discovered a passion for puppetry, which eventually led her to Columbia College for her Masters studies. In 1972, at the age of 81, Thomas was the first African-American woman to have a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

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