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Elizabeth Harden Gilmore: First Black Woman Licensed As Funeral Director In Kanawha County, West Virginia



Elizabeth Harden Gilmore was the first African American woman licensed as a funeral director in Kanawha County, West Virginia in the late 1930s. She opened the Harden and Harden Funeral Home in 1947.


Gilmore also pioneered in efforts to integrate West Virginia’s schools, housing, and public accommodations and to pass civil rights legislation enforcing such integration. In the early 1950s, before the Brown v. Board of Education decision mandating school desegregation, Gilmore formed a women’s club which opened Charleston’s first integrated day care center. At about the same time, she succeeded in getting her black Girl Scouts of the USA troop admitted to Camp Anne Bailey near the mountain town of Lewisburg.


She also co-founded the local chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) in 1958, and led CORE in a successful one-year-long sit-in campaign at a local department store called The Diamond.


During the 1960s, Gilmore served on the Kanawha Valley Council of Human Relations, where she participated in forums on racial differences and where she helped black renters, displaced by a new interstate highway, find housing. She led a successful push to amend the 1961 state civil rights law won her a seat on the powerful higher-education Board of Regents. Gilmore was the first African American to receive such an honor. She remained on the Board until the 1970s. She was also involved with the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and community education and welfare committees.


Elizabeth Harden Gilmore House, which is also known as Minotti-Gilmore House or Harden and Harden Funeral Home, is now a historic home and national historic district located at Charleston, West Virginia. It is a 2 12-story, Classical Revival brick detached residential dwelling built by 1900 on an approximately one-half acre lot in a business area of town. It features a columned portico and has undergone some alteration and deterioration.


Written by PH

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