Dr. Anna Arnold Hedgeman led a life devoted to education, politics and civil rights. Among her achievements – she was the only woman present at the organizing meetings for the historic 1963 March On Washington event.
Hedgeman was born July 5, 1899 in Marshalltown, Ia. and raised in Anoka, Minn. She enrolled in the state’s Hamline University and became its first Black student and graduate, earning a degree in English in 1922. While at the university, Hedgeman was inspired to become an educator after hearing famed civil rights leader W.E.B. Du Bois speak.
After teaching for a spell at Mississippi’s Rust College, Hedgeman went into a career in organizing the all-Black branches of the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) in Springfield, Ohio, Jersey City, N.J., Harlem, Philadelphia, Pa., and Brooklyn, N.Y. between the period of 1924 and 1936. She married musician Merritt A. Hedgeman after the end of her YWCA tenure.
Hedgeman’s time in Mississippi was especially critical in forming a basis for her civil rights activism later in life as she experienced segregation up close for extended periods of time. In the ’40’s, she moved in political circles, became a columnist and briefly serving as the Assistant Dean of Women at Howard University.
From 1954 to 1958, Hedgeman held a cabinet position for New York Mayor Robert F. Wagner Jr., the first Black woman to do so. This led into her work as a civil rights leader who was able to bridge the gap between white politicians and the Black community.
In 1963, she was a key figure and the only woman to work alongside A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin to plan the 1963 march. With Hedgeman’s help, over 40,000 Protestants joined the march.
Hedgeman penned two books, 1964’s The Trumpet Sounds, and 1977’s The Gift of Chaos, both which chronicled her journey in civil rights and activism. She passed in January 1990 in Harlem.