About Our Namesake

Hedgeman Center for Student Diversity Initiatives and Programs

Dr. Anna Arnold Hedgeman, Hamline University Class of 1922


Headshot of Dr. Anna Arnold Hedgeman Hamline Univeristy

Anna Arnold was born on July 5, 1899, in Marshalltown, Iowa. When Anna was a child, her family moved to Anoka, Minnesota where they were the only black family in the community. Her father created a home environment that prioritized education and a strong work ethic. Young Anna learned how to read at home and was not allowed to attend school until she was seven years old. After graduating from high school in 1918, Arnold was accepted into Hamline University, a Methodist college in St. Paul, Minnesota. She graduated four years later with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English, the first American graduate of color to earn a degree at Hamline University. While at Hamline, Arnold heard Dr. W.E.B. DuBois give an address and was inspired to become an educator. Unable to complete her student teaching requirements in St. Paul, Anna taught English to first-year students at Hamline.

Immediately after graduation, Arnold accepted a teaching position at Rust College in Holly Springs, Mississippi, the oldest of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities.  She taught English and history there for two years.  While in Mississippi she experienced racial segregation and discrimination for the first time, which led to her later involvement in the civil rights movement.

In 1924, Arnold left Holly Springs to begin a career with the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA). Between 1924 and 1938, she was executive director of YWCA facilities in Springfield, Ohio; Jersey City, New Jersey; Harlem, New York; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Brooklyn, New York. In 1936, Arnold married Merritt A. Hedgeman, an opera and folk music performer.

In 1944, Anna Arnold Hedgeman was appointed to be the executive director of the National Committee for a Permanent Fair Employment Practices Commission. She also served briefly as Assistant Dean of Women at Howard University, as a Public Relations Consultant for Fuller Products Company, and as the Associate Editor and Columnist for the New York Age. In 1948, she worked on the Harry Truman Presidential campaign.

From 1954 to 1958, Anna Arnold Hedgeman served in the cabinet of New York Mayor Robert F. Wagner, Jr. and was the first black woman to hold that position. By the early 1960s, Hedgeman was well-respected as a civic leader and helped A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin plan the 1963 March on Washington, which brought over 250,000 people to the nation's capital. As the coordinator of special events for the Commission of Religion and Race of the National Council of Churches, Hedgeman recruited over 40,000 Protestants who participated in the August 28, 1963 march. It was at this momentous occasion that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

By the 1970s, Hedgeman was a frequent lecturer at historically black colleges and universities in the U.S. She also wrote two books about her life's work: The Trumpet Sounds (1964), and The Gift of Chaos (1977). Both Howard University and Hamline University have awarded Hedgeman honorary doctor degrees. Anna Arnold Hedgeman passed away on January 17, 1990.

In addition to the Center for Student Diversity Initiatives and Programs (formerly MISA), Hamline University also awards an endowed scholarship which bears Anna Arnold Hedgeman’s name. 

LISTEN: The forgotten struggle for civil rights in the northern US (Minnesota Public Radio, March 30, 2018)

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