Is born in Freedmen's Hospital. Washington, D.C. Her father dies soon after. She is raised by her mother and spends summers in North Carolina with her maternal grandparents.
Attends Howard University, Washington, D.C.; majors in painting and graduates with a Bachelor of Science degree in art.
Attends graduate school at the University of Iowa; studies painting with Grant Wood; graduates with a Master od Fine Arts degree.
Becomes chair of the Art Department, Dillard University, New Orleans, La.
Studies ceramics at the Art Institute of Chicago, where she meets painter Charles White; marries him soon after. Wins "First Honor" for her sculpture Mother and Child at the American Negro Exposition in Chicago. Participates in the exhibition American Negro Art from the 19th and 20th Centuries, Edith Halpert's Downtown Gallery, New York.
Works around racial barriers to find a way for her Dillard University students to see the Pablo Picasso exhibition at Delgado Art Museum in New Orleans. Since the museum was located in a city park closed to African-Americans, Catlett pressed the museum to allow her class to visit the exhibition on a day when the building was closed to the public.
Resigns from Dillard University; moves to New York City and settles in Harlem. Studies with the sculptor Ossip Zadkine in New York. Like Grant Wood, Zadkine helps her refine her sculptural vocabulary of simple, reductive forms. (Zadkine's gilt bronze sculpture Bust of Carol Janeway is on view in the Museum's Oval Gallery.)
Teaches sculpture and dressmaking at George Washington Carver School in Harlem.
Receives a Julius Rosenwald Foundation grant to produce a series of prints, paintings, and sculptures on the theme of black women.
Wins Rosenwald grant renewal; creates linoleum cut series, I Am a Negro Woman. Moves from New York to Mexico City; meets the Mexican muralist Diego Rivera and the artists in his circle. Joins the printmaking collective Taller de Grafica Popular (People's Graphic Workshop); meets the artist Francisco Mora.
Establishes permanent residence in Mexico; divorces Charles White; marries Mora. Mounts her first one-woman exhibition, Barnett-Aden Gallery, Washington, D.C.
Is arrested during the Union of Railroad Workers' strike in Mexico City. Becomes Professor of Sculpture, National School of Fine Arts, National Autonomous University of Mexico; becomes the first woman head of the Sculpture Department.
Is criticized by the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City for her political affiliations; becomes a Mexican citizen and is proclaimed an "undesirable alien" by the United States State Department.
Travels to Havana, Cuba, with the National Union of Mexican Women to attend the Congress of Women in the Americas. Creates the poster for the World Congress of Women, Moscow.
Supports students who were attacked by government troops in Mexico for protesting against the National Strike Council.
Learns of her mother's death; receives First Purchase Prize for print Malcolm X Speaks for Us in Mexico. Organizes the Mexican Provisional Committee of Solidarity with Angela Davis, the American Black Power militant; creates the poster Freedom for Angela Davis.
Is featured in one-woman exhibition at the Studio Museum in Harlem. The United States government grants her a visa to attend the exhibition, her first visit to America in 10 years.
Commissioned to create bronze sculpture of Louis Armstrong for the City of New Orleans' Bicentennial Celebration.
Retires as professor of sculpture at University of Mexico; moves to Cuernavaca, Mexico.
Is commissioned to create a bronze relief, Students Aspire, for Howard University.
Receives a string of prestigious awards and is highlighted in major exhibitions throughout the country; her reputation grows in the United States.
Is commissioned to create a monumental bronze relief of Invisible Man: A Memorial to Ralph Ellison, Riverside Park, New York. (Chronology adapted from Lucinda H. Gideon, ed., Elizabeth Catlett Sculpture, Neuberger Museum of Art: Purchase, New York, 1998.)
Passes away in the comfort of her home in Cuernavaca, Mexico surrounded by family. Leaves behind a legacy of education and social political art, having laid a foundation for future generations.
(Chronology adapted from Lucinda H. Gideon, ed., Elizabeth Catlett Sculpture, Neuberger Museum of Art: Purchase, New York, 1998.)