Iowa History Daily: On July 5, 1899, African-American civil rights leader, writer, and politician Anna Arnold Hedgeman was born in Marshalltown. Serving under President Harry Truman as Executive Director for the National Council for a Permanent Fair Employment Practices Commission, as the first African-American woman appointed to New York City mayoral cabinet post, and as a significant organizer of the 1963 March on Washington.
Born to William James Arnold II and Mary Ellen Arnold in the seat of Marshall County, Anna spent several years of her childhood in Iowa before moving to Anoka, Minnesota. Arriving as the only African-American family in the Minnesota town, the Arnold family worked to become valued and active community members. After graduating from Anoka High School in 1918, Arnold went on to attend Hamline University where she earned a degree in English on her way to becoming the first African-American alumna of the school.
Relocating to Mississippi to teach at Rust College, Anna Arnold Hedgeman experienced formal segregation for the first time during a two year stint at the university. Relocating to New Jersey to work as the director of the African-American branch of the YWCA, Arnold Hedgeman served as an active voice for change in American race relations during the 1930s. The outspoken support and advocacy embodied by the important early American Civil Rights leader ultimately led the YWCA to force her resignation near the end of the decade.
Working as the Executive Director of the National Committee for a Permanent Fair Employment Practices Commission starting in 1944, Arnold Hedgeman also went on to serve as assistant dean of women at Howard University in 1946. Continuing to build a political voice and reputation for thoughtful advocacy over the course of the 1940s and 1950s, New York City Mayor Robert F. Wagner Jr. appointed Arnold Hedgeman to a cabinet post, and she represents the first woman to hold that level of position in the history of the iconic American city.
By the dawn of the major moments of the American Civil Rights movements in the 1960s, Arnold Hedgeman stood out as a critical figure in the fight for equality. Working with A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin to organize the famed March on Washington, Arnold Hedgeman personally recruited over 40,000 of the 250,000 activists in attendance for Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech. #IowaHistoryDaily #IowaOTD #IowaHistoryCalendar