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IU Archives director discovers first African-American woman to attend Indiana University

Aug. 6, 2015

For IU Archives director Dina Kellams, it's always a good day when she's able to pore over old documents related to the history of the university.

And it's an even better day when she discovers something new from IU's nearly two centuries of history.

pharos-tribune article

The January 1898 Logansport Pharos-Tribune's article about the first African-American woman to attend IU: Carrie Parker. | IMAGE COURTESY OF IU ARCHIVES

That's what happened recently while she was browsing through a January 1898 newspaper using the IU Libraries' subscription of NewspaperArchive, and stumbled across a story about the first African-American women to attend IU: Carrie Parker.

"This is huge, folks," Kellams wrote in an IU Archives blog post. "Unless somebody has been keeping it a really good secret, to this point we had no idea who was the first African-American woman to attend IU. We know Frances Marshall was the first African-American woman to graduate in 1919, and we knew there had been other black women before her who attended but did not complete their degrees, but we had no clue as to who was the first."

The Logansport Pharos-Tribune reported that Parker, 19, was a graduate of the Clinton, Ind., school system and was compelled to work to pay her expenses for college. Because no on-campus housing existed for students, she lived with an English professor.

1898 campus photo

IU Bloomington in 1898 | PHOTO COURTESY OF IU ARCHIVES

Knowing Parker's name helped Kellams track down additional information about her, including another newspaper story about her graduation from Clinton High School naming her as the first ever African-American woman to graduate from a Vermillion County school.

While Kellams wasn't able to discover why Parker left IU, she did find records indicating she attended through 1898 and married John G. Taylor in 1899. The 1900 census reported they were living in Fairfield, Ind., where her husband was a laborer. They had six children.

Following the death of her first husband, she married Richard Eaton. Kellams found a copy of Parker's obituary, which indicated she died a widow March 3, 1958, in Kalamazoo, Mich.

"Unfortunately, her obituary doesn't tell us much about her life," Kellams wrote. "By this point, I've spent a good bit of time on the search and need to throw in the towel. I would love it if someone could perhaps track down a family member and find out more about Carrie and her life -- and possibly obtain a photo of her -- and make sure they know Carrie was one of IU's pioneers."

Kellams has made her research on Parker available publicly. Anyone interested in working to discover more about Parker should contact her at dmkellam@indiana.edu.

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