Ruth Anderson, Nationally Recognized Civil Rights Leader from the Cedar Valley, Passes Away

Ruth Anderson was the first African-American county social services director, the first African-American county supervisor and helped make inroads for female professors at the University of Northern Iowa

Ruth Anderson, 91, a locally beloved and nationally-recognized civil rights leader, passed away at her Waterloo home Tuesday after a long illness.

Anderson was known for her long history of forging new ground. She was the first African-American county social services director and the first African-American county supervisor.

The Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier reported on her tenure at the University of Northern Iowa, where she paved the way for other female professors:

Anderson became a professor of social work at UNI, where she won a legal battle with the university and was awarded a full professorship with tenure after having previously been passed over. The out-of-court settlement was seen as a major victory for female professors at public universities in Iowa. She taught for 22 years at UNI.

Under her leadership, contemporaries said, the UNI department of social work was created, and she headed that department.

Anderson, who participated in the March on Washington in 1963, was present when Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his "I Have a Dream" speech. 

Anderson was born in Sioux City. After getting her bachelor's degree from the University of California-Berkley and earning a master's degree from Columbia University School of Social Work, she moved to Waterloo in 1959.

Among numerous other accomplishments, she was inducted into the Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame in 1982 and received the Women of Achievement award in 1988. She was president of the Iowa-Nebraska State Conference of the NAACP during the early 1990s. In May 2012, the Iowa chapter of the National Association of Social Workers awarded her a lifetime achievement award.

Services will be held at Saunders Funeral Service in Waterloo.


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