Willie Stevenson Glanton, the wife of Iowa firsts


Photo: Iowa Legislature

In the history of Iowa, there are many pioneers. For an example of both Black Iowans and extraordinary women, you don’t have to search hard to find Willie Stevenson Glanton.

Born in Arkansas, Glanton moved to Iowa in 1951 right after her marriage to Luther T. Glanton Jr. who would later become one of Iowa’s first black judges.

Glaton was the second black female attorney to be called to the Iowa bar, which she did in 1953. Two years later, she began practicing law in Des Moines. Shortly thereafter, she became Polk County’s first black female deputy district attorney.

Glanton’s political life began when she came to Des Moines and soon joined the League of Women Voters, the Democratic Club, the Democratic Women’s Club, the John F. Kennedy Club, and the Roosevelt Club. She was an active member in all and did grassroots campaign work for the Democratic Party and regularly attended meetings.

As a result, she had the social and political connections to run for office and never doubted party support.

Glanton was elected to the Iowa House of Representatives in 1964. She was the first black woman elected to the state legislature. She served one term and resigned so she could accept her appointment as an adviser to the Federal Small Business Administration, where she remained until her retirement.

Glanton’s key issue was fair housing. Her general mission was to “free people”, which she had pursued since she was a girl and decided to become a lawyer.

Another notable year for Glanton was 1986. She was elected President of the Iowa Chapter of the Federal Bar Association. She was the first black woman to hold this position. She also represented the association on a tour of China, Finland and the Soviet Union. Finally, Galton was inducted into the Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame.

As a lawyer, Glanton focused on civil rights and women’s rights. She has advocated for equal opportunity with the US Small Business Administration.

Throughout her life, Glanton held leadership positions on other boards and commissions and was active in religious and community organizations and political groups.

Glanton died in Des Moines on July 6, 2017, at age 95.

by Nikoel Hytrek

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