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Harper, Virginia, 1929-1997



  • Existence: 1929 - 1997


(Lillie) Virginia Harper was born in Fort Madison, Iowa, on December 23, 1929, the daughter of Dr. Harry Harper, Sr. and Lillie Grinage Harper. She attended St. Joseph's elementary and high schools and graduated from Fort Madison High School in 1946. Harper studied at the State University of Iowa (now the University of Iowa) for three years, at Howard University, and graduated from the College of Medical Technology in Minneapolis. She was an x-ray technician and medical assistant in her family's clinic until it closed in 1977.

Harper's involvement in civil rights issues began during childhood and has continued throughout her life. At the age of eleven Harper and her two sisters refused to sit in the rows reserved for minorities at the local Fort Madison movie theater. In 1946 when only twenty African-American women were enrolled at the University of Iowa, Harper was one of the five who chose to live on campus, in Currier Hall. The others lived at the Iowa Federation Home, which was operated by the Iowa Federation of Colored Women's Clubs.

In 1971 Governor Robert Ray appointed Harper the first African-American woman to serve on the state Board of Public Instruction. In that position she worked towards instituting a human relations course requirement for teachers. In 1979 she was likewise the first African-American woman appointed to the Iowa Board of Parole. Since 1978 Harper has been president of the Fort Madison branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Her other civic activities include work as a volunteer at the Fort Madison penitentiary and as a member of both the Fort Madison Human Rights Commission and the Library Board of Trustees. In 1992 Harper was inducted into the Iowa Women's Hall of Fame in recognition of her commitment to equal rights. Virginia Harper died on September 3, 1997.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

Virginia Harper papers

Identifier: IWA0199

One of five African American women who integrated Currier Hall at the University of Iowa in 1946. Former president of the Fort Madison chapter of the NAACP.

Dates: 1940-2005