Anna Arnold Hedgeman was the first African American woman to serve on the cabinet of a New York mayor when she worked during the term of New York City Mayor Robert Wagner from 1957-1958. Her career spanned more than six decades as an advocate for civil rights. In 1963 she helped A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin plan the March on Washington and was the only woman among the key event organizers.
Arnold was born on July 5, 1899 in Marshalltown, Iowa to William James Arnold II and Marie Ellen Arnold. When Anna was a child, the family moved to Anoka, Minnesota where the Arnolds were the only black family in the community. Her parents emphasized the importance of getting a good education to their children.
After graduating from high school in 1918, Arnold was accepted into Hamline University, a Methodist college in St. Paul, Minnesota. She graduated four years later with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English, the first African American to earn a degree at that institution.
She later took a teaching job at Rust College in Holly Springs, Mississippi, where she stayed for two years. After experiencing racial segregation and discrimination for the first time, she began to take interest and get involved in the civil rights movement.
In 1924, Arnold left Holly Springs and began a career with the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA). Between 1924 and 1938 she was executive director of YWCA facilities in Springfield (Ohio), Jersey City (New Jersey), Harlem, Philadelphia (Pennsylvania), and Brooklyn.
From 1954 to 1958, Anna Arnold Hedgeman served in the cabinet of New York Mayor Robert F. Wagner, Jr. She was the first black woman to hold that position. By the early 1960s, Hedgeman was well-respected as a civic leader and helped A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin plan the 1963 March on Washington, which brought over 250,000 people to the nation’s capital. Anna Arnold Hedgeman died in 1990.