May 15, 1886: West Virginia's First African-American Female Legislator Born in Putnam Co.

May 15, 2017

Credit E-WV / WV Humanities Council

  On May 15, 1886, Minnie Buckingham was born in Putnam County. She later moved to Keystone in McDowell County and married E. Howard Harper, who was elected to the legislature in 1926. When Harper died in the middle of his term, the county Republican executive committee unanimously recommended Minnie to replace him. In January 1928, Governor Howard Gore appointed Minnie Buckingham Harper to complete her husband’s term, making her the first African-American woman in U.S. history to serve in a state legislature.

Her appointment reflected both the growing importance of women in American politics and the large voting bloc of African Americans in southern West Virginia. During her one session in the legislature, she served on the House committees on Federal Relations, Railroads, and Labor. Later that year, she chose not to run for election. It would take 22 more years before an African-American woman would be elected to the legislature. Elizabeth Drewry, also from McDowell County, was elected to the House in 1950.

Minnie Buckingham Harper eventually moved back to Putnam County. She died in Winfield in 1978 at age 91.