African American Women in Politics

African American Women in Politics

In my first post, Campaign Buttons, I highlighted a new donation to the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center in Wilberforce, Ohio. The collection consists of political memorabilia from President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign. This post will highlight more political items from our collection as well as the stories of the individuals represented in each object.

Anna Arnold Hedgeman was an educator and political activist. Hedgeman was born in 1899 in Iowa to William James and Marie Arnold. She graduated high school then attended Hamline University in Saint Paul, Minnesota. She became the first African American student enrolled at the school and, in 1922, she became the first African American graduate earning a B. A. in English. Hedgeman started her career teaching in Mississippi, then became the executive director of the Young Women’s Christian Association facilities in Springfield, Ohio, Jersey City, New Jersey, Harlem, New York, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Brooklyn, New York from 1924-1938.

In 1954, Anna Arnold Hedgeman became the first African American woman to serve on a mayoral cabinet as Robert F. Wagner, Jr.’s assistant. After her resignation from the YWCA, she continued to gain reverence as a leader in the Civil Rights Movement through her writing and lectures. Due to her recognition, she was chosen as an organizer for the 1963 March on Washington. In 1965, Anna Arnold Hedgeman ran for the City Council President in New York but was not elected. Later in life, she continued to give public addresses and she authored two books describing her work. Though she did not serve in office, Anna Arnold Hedgeman is an example of an African American political activist who overcame the numerous discriminatory societal barriers to create civic change on a national level.

For more information, please make a research appointment to see the archival collection of Anna Arnold Hedgeman’s papers currently being processed at the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center by museum archivist Jim McKinnon.              


Ella P. Stewart was one of the first female African American pharmacists in the country. In 1893, Ella Nora Phillips was born in Virginia to sharecroppers Eliza and Hamp Phillips. Ella attended Storer College in West Virginia then moved to Pittsburgh with her husband. She took employment as a bookkeeper at a drug store, where her interest in pharmacy was sparked. The University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy turned her away multiple times, but she persisted, and was eventually admitted into the program. In 1916, she became the first African American woman to graduate from pharmacy school in the State of Pennsylvania.

 Stewart moved to an African American neighborhood in Toledo, Ohio where she opened her own pharmacy which quickly became a gathering place for the local people. The challenges she faced as an African American woman in America prepared her to lead the community in their fight for civil rights. Stewart participated in the League of Women Voters, the Red Cross, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and many other organizations. In 1948, she was elected President of the National Association of Colored Women. She also served as Goodwill Ambassador for the U. S. State Department from 1954-1955. Though she never served in an elected office, she significantly contributed to political change at a local and national level despite the considerable social boundaries surrounding women and African Americans in politics. She is remembered not only for the advancements she made in the pharmaceutical field, but her accomplishments to end discrimination as well. Ella P. Stewart passed away in 1987.

For more information, see the Ella P. Stewart Papers at the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center in Wilberforce, Ohio or online at


Carol Moseley Braun was the first African American woman to serve in the U.S. Senate and the first female senator from Illinois. She was born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1947. She earned a B. A. in political science from the University of Illinois and had worked on several campaigns including Harold Washington and Richard Newhouse. In 1972, Carol graduated from the University of Chicago with a law degree. In 1978, she was voted into the Illinois House of Representatives. She held this position for a decade and was elected Recorder of deeds for Cook County, Illinois in 1988.

In 1991, Carol Moseley Braun ran for the Senate on the platform of creating diversity in the government. She won the election and became the first African American woman in the Senate in January 1993. Carol Moseley Braun held her senate position until 1999 and, in doing so, became an agent of change for government reform and civil rights issues. She played important roles in the passage of the Child Support Orders Act and the Improving America’s School Act. In 1998, she narrowly lost her seat in the senate, but continued her service to the United States as Ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa. In 2000, Moseley Braun ran for the Democratic nomination for President but was unsuccessful. Afterwards, she became a professor teaching business law. Carol Moseley Braun, still actively involved in politics today, was an early force for African American women in politics and left a legacy through legislation on crime, women, and education.

 This post was written by Wright State University Public History graduate student Alyssa Stark. She just completed an internship in Collection Management at the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center. She is currently processing this collection of campaign memorabilia for her capstone project.

Posted December 13, 2019
Topics: African American History

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