Pioneering Advances in the 1800s

Since its founding in 1847, the university and its alumni have been at the forefront of efforts to empower women and African Americans.

  • The University of Iowa opened its doors in 1855 as the first state university in America to admit men and women on an equal basis.
  • UI law alumnus Mary B. Hickey Wilkinson was the first woman to earn a law degree in America in 1873.
  • 1879 law alumnus G. Alexander Clark  is believed to be the first African American in the nation to earn a law degree.
  • Frank Kinney Holbrook, an Iowa football player in 1895, is believed to have been the first African American to compete in varsity athletics and one of the nation's first black college athletes.

Continuing to Blaze New Trails in the 1900s

As a new century arrived, and for the next 100 years, Iowa and its graduates continued to make gains for underrepresented groups, including women, African-Americans, Native Americans, Hispanics, Asian Americans, people with disabilities, and gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people.

  • Mildred Whitcomb became one of the first woman to head an American college daily newspaper upon being named editor of The Daily Iowan in 1919.
  • 1907 alumnus Dr. Laurence C. Jones founded the Piney Woods School in Mississippi, one of five historically black boarding schools in the United States, in 1909.
  • Iowa’s first traditionally black fraternity, Kappa Alpha Psi, was established in 1914.
  • Frederick W. “Duke” Slater becomes the University's first African American All-America football player and is named to the Chicago Tribune’s All-American football team, 1921. Slater Residence Hall is named after him.
  • The University of Iowa became the first tax-supported university in the nation to establish a school of religion in 1927. Iowa was also the first state university to offer a PhD in religion.
  • Homer Harris became the university's first African American football team captain (a first in Big Ten history) in 1937.
  • Elizabeth CatlettElizabeth Catlett, a notable sculptor and civil rights advocate, was one of the first students to earn an MFA from Iowa in 1940.
  • Mauricio Lasansky, an Argentinian native who became one of the world's most esteemed graphic artists, steered the School of Art & Art History's printmaking program to the top-ranked program in the country.
  • University Hospital School, the first program on a college campus devoted to rehabilitating disabled children and young adults, opened its doors to its first 20 patients in 1947.
  • Iowa PhD recipient Jewel Limar Prestage was the first black woman to receive a doctorate in political science from an American university, 1954.
  • Donald W. Tucker attended Iowa on a football scholarship, graduated with a BA in sociology and criminology in 1961, and went on to become one of the nation's first black federal narcotics agents. He became one of the nation's first black Secret Service agents in 1965. He has since written two books: a mystery and a biography, The Two-Edged Sword.
  • Margaret Walker Alexander, a noted African American poet and activist, completed her doctoral dissertation at the University of Iowa in 1965. It was later published as a Civil War novel titled Jubilee.
  • Philip G. Hubbard, who received a PhD from Iowa in 1954, becomes the first African American vice president at any Big Ten university when he is promoted to vice president for student services and dean of academic affairs at Iowa in 1966.
  • The university establishes the Afro-American Cultural Center, 1968.
  • UI English Professor Darwin Turner established the African American Studies Program and the Darwin Turner Action Theater in 1968-69. Mr. Turner's 1991 obituary in The New York Times noted that he had first enrolled in college at age 13 and taught at the University of Iowa for 20 years.
  • The University of Iowa's Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Allied Union was founded in 1970. It is the oldest state-university-recognized and continuously funded GLBTA student organization in the country.
  • Three enterprising UI students formed the Chicano and Indian American Student Union (now the UI Latino Native American Cultural Center) in 1971.
  • The university established the Women's Studies Program  in 1974 (it is now the Department of Gender, Women's, & Sexuality Studies), making it one of the oldest women's studies programs in the country.
  • The university founded the Latin American Studies Program in 1978.
  • Sigma Lambda Gamma, a national Latina sorority, is founded at the University of Iowa, 1990.
  • The university established the American Indian and Native Studies Program (AINSP), 1983.
  • Sigma Lambda Beta, a national Latino fraternity, was s founded at the University of Iowa in 1986.
  • Two professors establish the University of Iowa Center for Human Rights to promote and protect human rights through research, education, and public service, 1999.

Carrying the Momentum into a New Millennium

Now, a decade into the 21st Century and more than 150 years since its founding, the university, its students, and alumni continue to demonstrate a commitment to equality and diversity.

  • The university established the Asian Pacific American Cultural Center in 2003 as a resource for Asian American and Pacific Islanders in the UI community.
  • UI senior Tony Robinson, a journalism major from Davenport, Iowa, became the first African American student to be editor-in-chief of The Daily Iowan in 2004.
  • UI alums Rose Vasquez of Des Moines was appointed to the Board of Regents, State of Iowa (the governing board of Iowa's three public universities, including the University of Iowa), in 2004.