Isaac Scott Hathaway was born in 1872, although some resources say 1874, in Lexington, Kentucky. He was born to the Reverend Hathaway and his wife and was the youngest of their children. Hathaway's desire to become an artist was a result of a visit to a museum. At the museum, Hathaway noticed there were no pieces made by or depicting African Americans. At that point, in an early stage in his life, he vowed to represent his people.
Hathaway attended many colleges, including: Chandler College; Pittsburgh Normal College; Cincinnati Art Academy; the College of Ceramics of the State University of New York; the Ceramic College at the State University of Kansas. At these colleges, Hathaway studied art history and ceramics, but he also developed an interest in sculpture.
Upon finishing his schooling, Hathaway returned to Kentucky. In Kentucky, Hathaway worked as teacher in an elementary school. Hathaway began to make his own pieces in his spare time. Most of Hathaway's pieces were sculptures. He is most noted for his busts of famous African Americans, including his personal hero, Frederick Douglass. The medium of most of his pieces was plaster, but he also made some of bronze.
Hathaway's success had lasting effects. He taught at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff before moving to Tuskegee Institute, where he became a founding member of the Department of Ceramics. He was also the first African American to design a U.S. coin. During his life, Hathaway designed two U.S. coins. His first was the Booker T. Washington Memorial half dollar bearing the face of Booker T. Washington in 1946. His second was of George Washington Carver in 1951.
Hathaway's works are displayed in a museum bearing his name in Oklahoma City. Isaac Scott Hathaway died in March 1967.