Anoka County history: Distinguished woman from Anoka

Anna Arnold Hedgeman, was born in Iowa in 1899 to William James and Ellen Parker Arnold.

The family moved to Anoka in the early 1900s, where Mr. Arnold believed he could find religion, pride in oneself and determination.

They lived in a home on “J” Street, now called Cross Street, on the south side of Main Street.

“I grew up in a small, comfortable Midwestern town with the traditional main street. The shop owners, bank presidents, lawyers, minister’s doctors and farmers were well known to each other.”

These words were written in the autobiography of Anna Arnold Hedgeman, the first black student to graduate form Hamline University and a champion for civil rights.

According to the Anoka Union, the Arnold family attended the Methodist church in town.

The family was very well respected in the city of Anoka.

At the time, very few black families lived in the area and she was faced with discrimination at times.

Another child “repeated a vile word for blacks.” Anna told her mother about the incident.

Her mother, apparently a very wise woman, said Anna

“I hope you never use such un-Christian words, for all races must be respected,” she said.

“If anyone calls you a name of this kind, you must realize he is not an intelligent person.

“Ask the Lord to forgive him and forget about it.”

Anna began her distinguished career after graduating from Anoka High School in 1918.

When she was working toward her teaching degree at Hamline University in St Paul, she was a student teacher for the freshman class.

Only later did she learn she wasn’t teaching in the public schools, because they did want a black student teacher.

Perhaps these incidents encouraged her to be a strong voice for equal rights.

In 1922, she was the first black student to graduate from Hamline University.

She first taught in Mississippi, where she witnessed discrimination “in its crudest forms.

After two years she returned to the North, believing she might be able to organize forces which would help her bring freedom and equality to black people in the South.”

She was an executive of the YWCA for 12 years.

In 1948, she became the first woman to receive an honorary doctor of human letters degree from Hamline University in St Paul.

From 1949 to 1953, she was the first African American woman to hold an office as assistant to cabinet level administrator in national history.

President Franklin D Roosevelt established the Federal Fair Employment Practice Commission.

Dr Arnold Hedgeman became the executive director of the National Council for a Permanent FEPC.

From 1954 to 1958, she was the first African American woman to serve as a member of the cabinet of the mayor of the city of New York.

During 1953, Dr Arnold-Hedgeman was an exchange leader for the State Department.

She authored two books, one, “The Trumpet Sounds A Memoir of Negro Leadership,” is at the Anoka County Historical Society.

After reading the tremendous list of accolades of Dr Arnold-Hedgeman, I am very proud to say she lived in Anoka County.

The information in this column was gathered from materials found in the Arnold file.

Please stop in at the Anoka County History Center to read more in depth about this fascinating woman.

Editor’s note: Leslie Plummer is a volunteer with the Anoka County Historical Society.

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