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Anna Arnold Hedgeman

Activist for Feminism and Civil Rights


Anna Arnold Hedgeman

Anna Arnold Hedgeman, circa 1948

Courtesy Hamline University Archives / Buzz Brown

Born: July 5, 1899
Died: January 17, 1990
Known for: African-American feminist; civil rights activist; founding member of NOW

Anna Arnold Hedgeman was a civil rights activist and an early leader in the National Organization for Women. She worked throughout her life on issues such as education, feminism, social justice, poverty and civil rights.

A Pioneer for Civil Rights

Anna Arnold Hedgeman's lifetime of accomplishments included many firsts:

  • First black woman to graduate from Hamline University (1922) - the university now has a scholarship named for her
  • First black woman to serve on a New York City mayoral cabinet (1954-1958)
  • First black person to hold a Federal Security Agency position

Anna Arnold Hedgeman was also the only woman on the executive committee that organized Martin Luther King, Jr.'s famous March on Washington in 1963. Patrik Henry Bass called her "instrumental in organizing the march" and "the conscience of the march" in his book Like A Mighty Stream: The March on Washington August 28, 1963 (Running Press Book Publishers, 2002). When Anna Arnold Hedgeman realized there were going to be no female speakers at the event, she protested the minimal recognition of women who were civil rights heroes. She succeeded in persuading the committee that this oversight was a mistake, which led eventually to Daisy Bates being invited to speak that day at the Lincoln Memorial.

NOW Activism

Anna Arnold Hedgeman served temporarily as the first executive vice-president of NOW. Aileen Hernandez, who had been serving on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, was elected executive vice-president in absentia when the first NOW officers were selected in 1966. Anna Arnold Hedgeman served as temporary executive vice-president until Aileen Hernandez officially stepped down from the EEOC and took the NOW position in March 1967.

Anna Arnold Hedgeman was the first chair of NOW's Task Force on Women in Poverty. In her 1967 task force report, she called for a meaningful expansion of economic opportunities for women and said there were no jobs or opportunities for women "at the bottom of the heap" to move into. Her suggestions included job training, job creation, regional and city planning, attention to high school dropouts and an end to the ignoring of women and girls in federal job and poverty-related programs.

Other Activism

In addition to NOW, Anna Arnold Hedgeman was involved with organizations including the YWCA, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the National Urban League, the National Council of Churches' Commission on Religion and Race and the National Council for a Permanent Fair Employment Practices Commission. She ran for Congress and president of the New York City Council, drawing attention to social issues even when she lost the elections.

A 20th Century Life in the United States

Anna Arnold was born in Iowa and grew up in Minnesota. After graduating from Hamline University in Minnesota, she taught in Mississippi before ending up in New York. Anna Arnold married Merritt Hedgeman, a musician and performer. She wrote the books The Trumpet Sounds: A Memoir of Negro Leaership (1964) and The Gift of Chaos: Decades of American Discontent (1977).

Anna Arnold Hedgeman died in Harlem in 1990.

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