Born on January 7, 1891, Zora Neale Hurston was the fifth of eight children. In her youth she worked as a maid for the lead singer of the traveling Gilbert & Sullivan theatrical company. She attended Morgan Academy in 1917 and in order to qualify for a free high-school education, the then 26 year-old Hurston had to claim that she was born in 1901. She later attended Howard University in 1918 and was among one of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority’s first initiates. Hurston also had a knack for writing and co-founded The Hilltop, Howard’s student newspaper.
She left Howard in 1924 to attend Barnard College as the only black student there. She received her Bachelor’s degree in anthropology at the age of 36 in 1927 and conducted her ethnographic research under leading anthropologist Franz Boas of Columbia University. She also worked alongside noted anthropologists Ruth Benedict and Margaret Mead. Hurston traveled to Jamaica and Haiti on fellowship to do further anthropological studies, but she is most well-known for her literary work during the Harlem Renaissance. Hurston published four novels and more than 50 essays, plays, and short stories. Their Eyes Were Watching God, a literary novel published in 1937, gained her the most recognition as an African-American writer of her time.