In 1949, Morrison left Lorain to attend college at Howard University, the historically black university in Washington, D.C. It was here she gained the nickname "Toni," which would follow her the rest of her life. Morrison was frustrated with what she saw as her fellow students' lack of focus - student life "was about getting married, buying clothes and going to parties,"6 she said - but loved her studies. In 1953, she graduated from Howard with a bachelor's degree in English. Two years later, she received her master's degree in English from Cornell University. Morrison wrote her master's thesis on the appearance of suicide in the novels of William Faulkner and Virginia Woolf.
Morrison moved to Houston to take her first teaching position at Texas Southern University. In 1957, she returned to Howard to serve on the English faculty there. It was at Howard that she met her husband, a Jamaican architect named Harold Morrison. The couple married in 1958 and had two sons, Harold and Slade. The Morrisons' marriage was troubled, however, and they divorced in 1964 while Toni Morrison was pregnant with their second son.