Thelma Elizabeth Page Richardson, educator and civil rights pioneer, daughter of Edward Page and M. M. Page, was born in Denver, Colorado, on February 21, 1911. Page attended Brownwell public schools and graduated from East High School with honors. Her graduating class consisted of 548 students, eight of whom were Black. Her experience in an integrated school system would later prove a benefit to her as a professional educator.
Richardson spent one year at Denver University and then entered what is now the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, Colorado. During Richardson’s time, the school was called the Colorado State Teacher’s College. While attending the University of Northern Colorado, she earned a bachelor of arts degree in modern romance languages. She was active on campus and served as president of the Cosmopolitan Club and as a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, the Religious Council, and a romance languages club. She also gained exposure to music, basketball, and art appreciation. After graduating from college, Richardson earned a master’s degree from the University of Denver.
In 1934 Richardson moved to Dallas and began teaching in the Dallas Independent School District. During her career, she taught Spanish and French at Booker T. Washington, Lincoln, and North Dallas high schools. At the time Richardson was hired, she and all other Black teachers made $100 less than their White colleagues. In 1942 the Negro Teachers Alliance of Dallas decided to sue the Dallas Board of Education for the disparity in wages. The suit, filed on December 23, 1942, in federal court, “charged that for years the school district maintained a policy of paying Black teachers and principals less than Whites with the same education, experience and duties–even though all Dallas residents paid the same property taxes which was the source of all teacher salaries.” According to the suit, there was a $540 salary disparity between White and Black teachers with similar qualifications and experience. White teachers were paid $1800 a year, while Black teachers received $1260. Thurgood Marshall of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) acted as the chief counsel of the case, and local attorneys William J. Durham and C. B. Bunkley gave legal assistance. The NAACP and the Negro Teachers Alliance of Dallas considered Thelma Page Richardson (then Thelma Page), who had been teaching at Lincoln High School for eight years by that time, as the ideal plaintiff for their suit. As a young student, she had studied only at integrated schools while growing up in Colorado. The Dallas Board of Education’s justification for the pay disparity was that Black teachers were less qualified based on being products of segregated schools. The case was ultimately settled out of court with the Dallas Board of Education acquiescing to the right of Black teachers to receive equal pay for equal qualifications and equal responsibilities within the district. Black teachers received about one-third of the difference immediately and full equalization of salaries came two years after the suit was originally filed. At some point after the lawsuit, Thelma Page married and changed her last name to Richardson, but no information is available on her husband.
Thelma Elizabeth Page Richardson was honored for her work by the National Council of Negro Women of Dallas at a reception, thirty-three years later, in 1975 at Bishop College. The Dallas Morning News reported on the event and explained that the “honor came late” but “just in time.”
On September 14, 1996, in La Mirada, California, Thelma Elizabeth Page Richardson died due to congestive heart failure. She was eighty-five years old. Although she was a member of Bethel AME Church, her funeral was held at St. Luke Community United Methodist Church of Dallas. Her body was buried at Laurel Land Memorial Park. Her son Larry Richardson, as well as her three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, survived her. The Thelma Elizabeth Page Richardson Elementary School, named in her honor, was scheduled to open in Dallas in fall 2013.