Though her career was shortened by illness, Nebraska U alumna Zanzye Herterzena A. Hill was a trailblazer for Black women pursuing law careers in the Cornhusker State.
The daughter of Pinck M. E. and Eliza Johnson Hill, Hill was the first Black woman to earn a law degree from the university and be admitted to practice law in Nebraska.
Hill was born in Yazoo City, Mississippi, and raised in Lincoln. She graduated from Lincoln High School in 1924 and earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Nebraska in 1927.
She was active on campus, joining the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, singing as the only Black member of the university’s vesper choir, and serving on the University YWCA’s interracial commission. She was also a Harlem Renaissance poet who had her prose published (below) via campus publications.
Hill graduated from Nebraska Law in 1929 and, that June, was admitted to the bar to practice law. She taught briefly at the Tuskegee Institute and worked as chief counsel for Woodmen of the Union, which was the nation’s largest insurance company for Black people.
A longtime illness forced Hill to give up her work with Woodmen. She died in 1935 at age 29.
Hill’s achievements were remembered in 1948 when Creighton University grad Elizabeth Davis Pittman became the second Black woman admitted to the Nebraska bar. In 1982, Hill was one of five Nebraskans honored during the state’s first Women’s History Week.
My Nantie she’s the funniest thing
She looks real hard when I help her sing
When company comes, and I run out,
To see what they’re all laughing ‘bout.
She just says, you go right back
And don’t be peeping through the crack
Company they say, Oh that’s all right
She’s only just a little might
And some day when she grows up tall
Then you’ll be wishing she small
Then company says Nantie, listen dear
Why does Milley act so queer?
Nantie looks around to see if I’m listening
And if I’m she began hissing
And says, what else could she be
The way Mrs. Jones acted at her tea
Why I think it was terrible, don’t you
The way they whispered, just those two
And company asks Nantie what was it
And Nantie said what it was the rite
Her curtains once were white as snow
But she decided to make a show
And when she went down to the ten-cent store
‘Cause she couldn’t afford any more
And bought herself some dye of red
To match she said her bedroom spread
I listened hard but couldn’t hear any more
‘Cause just then my Nantie she shut the door
When I get old and have little girls
And company come to my house
I’ll never tell them to go and sit
And be quiet as a little mouse.
By Zanzye Herterzena A. Hill | Published in Alpha Kappa Alpha’s “Ivy Leaf,” 1929