The first female state legislators won office in Western states like Colorado and Utah, decades before women got the right to vote around the country.
But it was an eastern state, West Virginia, that sent the first Black woman to a legislative office. Minnie Buckingham Harper (R) was appointed to fill her late husband’s seat representing the small town of Keystone in 1928.
“Race Woman Sent to Legislature,” screamed the front page of the Norfolk Journal and Guide on March 10, 1928.
“She is the first woman of the race to be so honored in this country. Delegate [Howard] Harper was himself regarded an able legislator and his record in the House of Delegates is a credit to his race, it is declared. Mrs. Harper, it is believed, will serve her State with equal foresight,” the paper wrote.
Little else is known about Harper’s life and career, an oversight repeated often throughout history.
“Harper shows up very little in scholarly work, which speaks to the invisibility of Black people, and Black women in particular, in Appalachian history,” said Jessica Wilkerson, a historian at West Virginia University.
— Alex Gangitano photo: The West Virginia Encyclopedia
photo: The West Virginia Encyclopedia