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The University of Iowa Libraries

Guide to the Virginia Harper papers

Collection Overview

Date Span: 1940-2005
Creator: Harper, Virginia (1929-1997)
Extent: 1.00 linear foot.
Collection Number: IWA0199
Repository: Iowa Women's Archives
Summary: 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.
View Selected Items Online:African American Women in Iowa Digital Collection

Access: The papers are open for research. Materials within the collection cannot be photocopied for users.

Use: Copyright held by the donor has been transferred to The University of Iowa.

Acquisition: The papers (donor no. 279) were donated by Virginia Harper in 1995 and subsequent years.

Preferred Citation: Virginia Harper papers, Iowa Women's Archives, The University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City.

Repository: Iowa Women's Archives
Address: 100 Main Library
University of Iowa Libraries
Iowa City, IA 52242
Phone: 319-335-5068
Curator: Kären Mason

(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.

The Virginia Harper papers date from the 1940s to 2005 and measure 1.25 linear feet. The papers are arranged in four series: Biographical information, Correspondence, Civic leadership positions, and Iowa racial issues and Photographs.

The Biographical information series ([1940s]-1997) consists of correspondence, newspaper clippings, family histories, and memorabilia of the Harper family.  Handwritten and typescript copies of "The Dandridge Family History," written by Virginia Harper's great aunt Rosa Dandridge Pryor in 1971, include descriptions of George and Jane Motley Stevens' and Rufus Dandridge's lives under slavery and after settling in Lee County ca. 1866.  Minutes, newsletters, and lists relating to the annual Harper-Dandridge family reunions are included in this series; the "Harper Reunion Log Book" (1934-1979) can be found in the Harry Harper papers in the University of Iowa Special Collections Department.  This series includes three short poems written by Leanne Howard, one of the "Currier Five" who integrated the dorms at the University of Iowa in 1946.

The Correspondence series (1950-1987 and undated) comprises letters by Harper, her family, and friends, and includes several written in the 1950s by Clif White, a musician travelling with jazz and swing big bands.

Harper's involvement in local and state activities is documented in the Civic leadership positions series (1963-1987). The series includes materials relevant to her service on the State Board of Public Instruction, the Iowa Board of Parole, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and her volunterr service for the Iowa State Penitentiary. The local Fort Madison branch NAACP newsletters (1963-1970), which Harper edited, are also part of the series.

The Iowa racial issues series (1961-1988 and undated) comprises diverse materials. It includes information on an African-American statewide communications network; Iowa affirmative action policy; curriculum guides, including "Minority Cultures and Negro History: A Supplement to the Course of Study in Social Studies" (1970) from the Mason City Schools; and various articles on race relations. A sizable portion of the material in the series is devoted to the Highway 61 issue (1968-1976), the location of which the NAACP opposed on the grounds of racial discrimination.
Harry Harper papers, University of Iowa Special Collections Department

Iowa Women's Hall of Fame records (IWA)

Lois Eichacker papers (IWA)
Eichacker is Virginia Harper's sister.

Jacqueline Scott papers (IWA)
A copy of "We Shall Overcome," a teacher's resource packet compiled by Scott that pertains to African-American history in Southeast Iowa, has been transferred from Virgina Harper's papers to Jaqueline Scott's papers.

Browse by Series:

  • Box 1:
  • Personal (2 folders) - 1948-1998
  • Iowa Womens Hall of Fame - 1992
  • Family: Correspondence and miscellaneous - 1950s-1995
  • Family: St Luke Baptist Church Centennial Anniversary, Washington DC - 1979
  • Family: World War II ration book - 1940s
  • Family: Newspaper clippings - 1956-2005
  • Family: Obituaries - 1962-1997
  • Family: "The Dandridge Family History" - typed transcript - 1971
  • Family: "The Dandridge Family History" - original manuscript - 1971
  • Box 2:
  • Harper family reunions - 1979-1985, 1997
  • United Brothers and Sisters Organization Roast of Virginia Harper (2 folders) - 1981
  • Speeches - 1970-1995
  • Box 2:
  • Correspondence - 1950-1970
  • Correspondence - 1970-1979
  • Correspondence - 1980-1984
  • Correspondence - 1985-1996
  • Box 2:
  • Board of Public Instruction: Amish exemption issue - 1971-1976
  • Board of Public Instruction: Memoranda and minutes - 1972-1987
  • Iowa 2000 - 1976
  • Box 3:
  • Iowa Board of Parole - 1979-1989
  • Iowa State Penitentiary - 1975-1995
  • NAACP: General - 1964-1996
  • NAACP: NAACP Black History Week - 1975
  • NAACP: Correspondence - 1963-1970
  • NAACP: Correspondence - 1971-1996
  • NAACP: Minutes and factsheets - 1993-1994
  • NAACP: Newsletters, Fort Madison, Iowa, branch - 1963-1996
  • NAACP: Newsletters, Fort Madison, Iowa, branch - 1967-1970
  • Box 4:
  • NAACP: Newspaper clippings - 1963-1996
  • NAACP: NAACP Fort Madison branch president's roast - 1992
  • NAACP: Public programs - 1966-1996
  • Box 4:
  • Affirmative Action policy - 1985, 1988
  • African-American communications network - 1985-1986
  • Curriculum guides - 1970
  • Highway 61: Correspondence and documents - 1968-1974
  • Highway 61: Correspondence and documents - 1975
  • Highway 61: Correspondence and documents - 1976
  • Highway 61: Newspaper clippings - 1968-1976
  • Race relations - 1961, 1968, 1986
  • Series 5: PHOTOGRAPHS
  • Box 4:
  • Virginia Harper and family - 1992