Class of 1937, 1980
Clara Belle Drisdale was born in Plum, Texas, in 1885. She was valedictorian of the 1908 graduating class of Prairie View Normal and Independent College (now Prairie View A & M University). She married Jasper Williams in 1917; the couple raised three sons: Jasper, James and Charles.
Clara enrolled at the New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts (now NMSU) in the fall of 1928 after taking courses at the University of Chicago. While working as a teacher at the Booker T. Washington School in Las Cruces, she took courses in the summer. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English from NMSU in 1937 at the age of 51.
For more than 20 years, during a time when Las Cruces public schools were segregated, Clara taught at Booker T. Washington. She continued her education beyond her graduation date, taking graduate-level classes well into the 1950s.
She provided a shining example of overcoming adversity and served as an inspiration to her family and the people she met throughout her life.
Making education a priority, Clara urged her sons to succeed in higher education and they did just that. All three went to college and graduated with medical degrees. Charles attended Howard University Medical School in Washington D.C. Jasper and James graduated from Creighton University Medical School in Omaha, Neb. They went on to found the Williams Clinic in Chicago, Ill.
Clara went on to receive many honors during her lifetime. She succeeded despite significant obstacles of discrimination placed before her while pursuing higher education. In 1961, NMSU named Williams Street on the main campus in her honor. She received an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from NMSU in 1980. Williams passed away in 1994. She was 108.
Clara Belle Williams Day was celebrated on Feb. 13, 2005, at NMSU. Included in the festivities was the renaming of the NMSU English Building as Clara Belle Williams Hall.