About Helen Bass Williams

Founder of the Academic Success Center, and Purdue's first African American faculty member

Who was Helen Bass Williams?

Helen Bass Williams was the first African American faculty member at Purdue University.

As the co-founder of both the Learning Center (now Academic Success Center) and Purdue's Black Caucus of Faculty and Staff, Helen's legacy and advocacy work for the Boilermaker community are still felt more than 50 years later.

This page is dedicated to sharing the legacy of Helen Bass Williams as it pertains to the Academic Success Center. For more information on Helen's life, please visit the Purdue University Archives and Special Collections.

photo of helen bass williams looking at the camera, sepia colored

Timeline of helen bass williams' life and work

The following timeline highlights several events in Helen's life which were key in leading up to her work at Purdue University and the founding of the Academic Success Center.


Helen is born on March 29 in Dewmaine, IL to Lillian (Spears) and Homer Kelley


Becomes faculty member at Benedict College, historically Black college in South Carolina


Moves to Mississippi to continue advocacy work, begins teaching at Tougaloo College


Becomes director of Mississippi Action for Progress


Begins work at Purdue University as Assistant Professor of Modern Languages, becomes first African American faculty member


Co-writes original proposal for the Purdue Learning Center (now ASC) with Associate Dean Earl Notestine


Retires from Purdue University


Named the Southern Illinois "Woman of the Year"


Helen passes away on December 13 in Colp, IL at the age of 75


Academic Success Center is renamed in honor of Helen Bass Williams

Awards and Accolades

In recognition for many years of service and advocacy, Helen Bass Williams received myriad awards during her lifetime, and even posthumously.

For more information on Helen's life and work, we encourage everyone to visit the Purdue University Archives and Special Collections.

National Red Cross Award


OEO Rural Service Award


Purdue Old Master


The Lane Bryant Citation


Fellow, National Medication Association of Mississippi


Leather Medal, Purdue SDX


Outstanding Teaching Award, Alpha Phi Alpha


Helen B. Schleman Gold Medallion


Southern Illinois "Woman of the Year"


Remembering Helen at Purdue

On Jan. 26, 2023, Purdue's College of Liberal Arts (CLA) unveiled a portrait of Helen Bass Williams commissioned from local artist and Purdue employee, Stacy Bogan. The 32" x 36" oil painting, titled "To Love and to Learn", resides in Stanley Coulter Hall, a place that Helen called home during her time at Purdue.

"This painting brings together many different elements," Bogan said at the unveiling ceremony. "Professor Williams is firm and unyielding, and also feminine and graceful.

Helen's portrait will be featured in CLA's future Black and Gold Black History walking tours. Purdue faculty and staff are encouraged to take part in the tour to learn more about Helen Bass Williams and Black History at Purdue.

portrait of helen bass williams comissioned by Purdue's college of liberal arts

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