Prestage, Jewel Limar (1931–2014)


By: Mia Gomez

Type: Biography

Published: December 19, 2021

Updated: December 20, 2021


Jewel Limar Prestage, political scientist, civic leader, educator, and the second African American woman to receive a Ph.D. in political science from an American university, was born on August 12, 1931, in Hutton, Vernon Parish, Louisiana, to Brudis Leroy Limar, Sr., a foreman at a turpentine camp, and Sallie Bell (Johnson) Limar. In the 1930s her family moved to Alexandria, Louisiana, where she attended public schools and joined the True Vine Missionary Baptist Church. During World War II, her father worked for the military, and the family lived at Camp Livingston, a military installation that included a Japanese internment and POW camp. At the age of sixteen, she graduated as valedictorian from Peabody High School in 1948.

Prestage attended Southern University (later Southern University and A&M College), a historically Black university in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. There she joined the Beta Psi Chapter of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., and the Literary and Debate Society. At the time, she was the only woman studying political science at Southern University, and she studied under Rodney G. Higgins and Twiley Barker, both of whom became her mentors. At the age of nineteen, Prestage graduated summa cum laude in 1951, then attended graduate school at State University of Iowa (commonly called University of Iowa), where she completed her master’s degree in 1952 and a Ph.D. in 1954. She was the second African American woman to earn a doctorate in political science at an American university (Vernie Merze Tate completed a doctorate in government and international affairs at Radcliffe College in 1941). At that time, twenty-two-year-old Prestage was the youngest African American recipient of a doctoral degree from the University of Iowa and one of the youngest Black students to receive a political science doctorate in the country. On August 12, 1953, she married James Jordan Prestage, a World War II and Korean War veteran, in Alexandria. The couple met as students at Southern University and later had five children, Terri Prestage-White, James Grady Prestage, Eric Warren Prestage, Karen Prestage-Washington, and Jay Wilkins Prestage.

Upon completion of her doctorate in 1954, Prestage accepted a teaching position at Prairie View Agricultural and Mechanical College (later called Prairie View A&M University), where she worked with African American political scientists C. Earl Lewis and Thomas R. Solomon. She then returned to Southern University to teach political science in 1956 while her husband completed his master’s degree in 1955 and a doctorate in zoology in 1959. In 1965 she became chair of the political science department, a position she held for eighteen years until she was made dean of the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs at Southern University in 1983. She also served as the director of the university’s Center for Civic Education. Prestage retired from Southern University as distinguished professor emeritus in 1989, then became dean of the Benjamin Banneker Honors College at Prairie View A&M until she fully retired in 2002.

As a political scientist, Prestage led the field in research on African American women’s involvement in politics and political socialization of Black children. She was one the first to apply the theory of marginality, developed by sociologists, to political science, and her Portrait of Marginality: The Political Behavior of the American Woman (1977), co-authored with Marianne Githens, became a standard work on women in politics. Often referred to as the “Mother of Black Political Science,” in 1973 she was the first woman and the first African American to serve as president of the Southwestern Social Science Association. Prestage also served on executive councils for the Southern Political Science Association, the Southwestern Political Science Association, the American Political Science Association, and she helped found the National Conference of Black Political Scientists.

Prestage and her husband focused their activism and political acumen toward the community in Southern University through registering Black citizens to vote. The Prestages joined the Second Ward Voters League in this effort, and Jewel later established and became director of the Louisiana Center to Assist Black Elected Officials where she registered Black voters and assisted and trained Black elected officials. Jewel also focused her activism toward improving secondary and elementary school education in Louisiana through establishing the National Defense Education Act Civics Institute (1967–69) and the Robert A. Taft Seminars for Social Science Teachers (1979–92). These initiatives trained hundreds of Louisiana teachers and helped improve the methods of teaching civic education in the state. President Jimmy Carter appointed Prestage to serve on the National Advisory Council on Women’s Educational Programs for the U.S. Department of Education, where she implemented the Women’s Educational Equity Act (WEEA) and advised the Secretary of Education on women’s programs.

In recognition of Prestage’s contributions to the field of political science, she received the National Conference of Black Political Scientists’ Fannie Lou Hamer Award, the American Political Science Association’s Frank Goodnow Award, and the Southern Political Science Association’s Manning Dauer Award. The Policy Studies Organization and the Southwestern Political Science Association created awards in her name that recognize outstanding achievement in the study of race, politics, and gender, and the National Conference of Black Political Scientists created the Jewel Limar Prestage Faculty Mentorship Award that recognizes outstanding professors of political science who have worked at a historically Black college or university.

Jewel Limar Prestage died at the age of eighty-two on August 1, 2014, in Houston, Texas. Her funeral service was conducted August 9, 2014, at Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church in Houston, and she was buried at the Houston National Cemetery.

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Baton Rouge Advocate, August 8, 2014. Dallas Morning News, March 30, 1974. Shiela Harmon Martin, "Jewel Limar Prestage: Political Science Trailblazer and the Mother of Black Political Science," PS: Political Science and Politics 38 (January 2005). Samuel Momodu, “Jewel Limar Prestage,” Black Past, December 21, 2016 (https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/prestage-jewel-limar-1931-2014/), accessed December 12, 2021. Linda M. Perkins, “Merze Tate and the Quest for Gender Equality at Howard University, 1942–1977,” History of Education 54 (November 2014). Jewel Prestage, Interview by Shelby Faye Lewis, Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky, October 30, 1992 (https://nunncenter.net/ohms-spokedb/render.php?cachefile=1992oh387_apsa112_ohm.xml), accessed December 12, 2021. Celia L. Smith, “First Black Woman to Earn a PhD in Political Science Dies,” Essence, updated October 27, 2020 (https://www.essence.com/news/first-black-woman-earn-phd-political-science-dies/), accessed December 10, 2021. State Times Advocate (Baton Rouge), February 28, 1951. Sue Tolleson-Rinehart and Susan J. Carroll, “‘Far from Ideal’: The Gender Politics of Political Science,” American Political Science Review 100 (November 2006). The Town Talk (Alexandria, Louisiana), August 7, 2014; October 24, 2021. Maurice Woodard and Michael B. Preston, “Black Political Scientists: Where are the New Ph.D.s?” PS: Political Science and Politics 18 (Winter 1985).

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December 19, 2021
December 20, 2021

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