Lucy Sessions was the first African-American woman to receive a college degree. Little is known about her early life. Her mother, who also was named Lucy Sessions, lived for a time in Boston, Massachusetts, where she was active in encouraging men and women of all races to leave churches that condoned slavery. By the mid 1840s, the Sessions family had relocated to Toledo, Ohio. Lucy Sessions was denied admittance to all schools in the area. Thanks to her mother's firm belief that her daughter should have an education, Lucy Sessions enrolled at Oberlin College. Located in Oberlin, Ohio, the college was the first institution of higher education to admit women in the United States. Sessions was too young to enroll, but college officials made an exception, especially after Sessions proved her ability in the classroom. She graduated with a college degree in 1850.
Following the American Civil War, Sessions moved to the South, where she taught school to recently freed African Americans. Sessions later moved to Los Angeles, California. She became very active in charitable works and raised funds for the Sojourner Truth Home for working-class women. Lucy Sessions died in Los Angeles on February 18, 1910.