The information below came from the National Register nominations for the Tate Arms and the Iowa Federation Home.
In 2016, the City of Iowa City applied for and received an African American Civil Rights Grant from the National Park Service for a two-part project. The first was to nominate two buildings in Iowa City associated with African American housing equity during the Civil Rights Era to the National Register of Historic Places. The second was to create educational signage for these two buildings, as well as provide print and digital media educational materials. The two buildings are the Iowa Federation Home, located at 942 Iowa Avenue, and Tate Arms, located at 914 S. Dubuque Street.
Both houses are being recognized because they provided off-campus dormitory-style housing for African American students during a time when the University of Iowa barred them from living on campus and housing was difficult for Black students to find due to racial discrimination. One specific incident of racial discrimination in housing occurred in 1921, when a “powerful but sinister organization,” possibly a local branch of the Ku Klux Klan or a similar white supremacist organization, outbid the University’s chapter of the Black fraternity Kappa Alpha Psi, preventing them from purchasing a site for their chapter house.
Though the University of Iowa admitted African American students as early as the 1870s and constructed dormitories in the 1910s, they would not allow Black students to live there until 1946. Prior to the establishment of rooming houses for Black students such as the Iowa Federation Home and the Tate Arms, Black male students generally roomed with one of the few Black families in Iowa City or worked as servants in white fraternity houses. Black female students often obtained room and board in the households of university professors in exchange for performing household duties. Until African American students were allowed to live on campus, these two houses—and others like them that have since been demolished—provided a way for Black students to pursue their education in a racially segregated city. Many of the students who lived in these houses became active in the Civil Rights Movement during the mid-twentieth century.
Iowa City Black Householder Addresses in Census Years 1900-1920
Click the maps for a downloadable pdf.
Iowa City Black Householder Addresses in Census Years 1925-1940
Iowa Federation Home
In 1919, a group of Black female students convinced the Iowa Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs (IFCWC) to acquire and operate a home to be used by Black female students at the University. This home, known as the Iowa Federation Home for Colored Girls, was in operation for 31 years, from 1919-1951. The clubwomen from the IFCWC initially went to the University of Iowa with two proposed housing options for Black female students: 1) the University could purchase a home for African American women to use as a dormitory, or 2) The University could endorse a fundraising campaign. The University rejected the first option and did not provide much support for the second, so the IFCWC fundraised in order to purchase the house, with many influential African American alumni, white state government officials, and enrolled students contributing to the cause.
In September 1919, the IFCWC was able to purchase the house at 942 Iowa Avenue and an additional lot for $5,300 with $1,000 down, despite opposition from white neighbors. As the sale closed, neighbors asked for a reassessment of the extra lot and succeeded in getting it reassessed for an extra $179. The campaign to maintain all-white neighborhoods in Iowa City revealed the depth of racism toward African Americans integrating into white neighborhoods, something that the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity and other Black University students experienced when trying to secure housing both on campus at the University and throughout Iowa City.
During the 1919-1920 school year, eleven women lived at the Federation Home. This number varied from year to year, peaking at seventeen in 1929, and declining during the Great Depression when many students who enrolled were forced to withdraw for financial difficulties. The low enrollment and tenancy caused a financial burden on the IFCWC, and in order to keep the Federation Home open and operational, the IFCWC rented the Federation Home for two years, 1937–1939, to the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity, which was then without a chapter house. As the Great Depression came to a close, enrollment of African American women increased and the Federation Home was able to recover. By 1945, the University of Iowa had ended its policy of not allowing any African American students to live on campus, but this was limited to students from Iowa. In 1946, five African American women “officially” integrated Currier Hall, although one of the women reported that other light-skinned African American women had unofficially desegregated Currier Hall in earlier years. By 1949 the Iowa residency requirement was dropped. The importance of the Iowa Federation Home waned as the University dormitories desegregated and as more Black families moved to Iowa City and were able to open new rooming houses for African American students. The Iowa Federation Home last served Black female students in 1950, and it closed its doors in 1951 after the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity had rented the Home during its final year of operation.
The women who lived at the Federation Home were trailblazers and activists both within campus life and outside of it. Marie A. Brown and Gwendolyn Wilson were some of the first African American women to enroll in the College of Pharmacy; Helen Lemme was a well-known community activist focusing on politics and women’s issues; and Beulah Wheeler became the first African American woman to graduate from the College of Law while also gaining awards for playing basketball and volleyball. These are just a few of the impressive women who lived at the Federation Home.
Iowa Federation Home
Delta Sigma Theta Sorority 100-year celebration
Iowa Federation Home
The house at 914 S. Dubuque Street was built in 1913–1914 as Iowa City’s first rooming house built expressly for black tenants, but it was not until 1940 that its best-known owners, Elizabeth “Bettye” Tate and her husband Junious “Bud” Tate, bought the house. Bud operated a janitorial service for downtown businesses, and Bettye operated a rooming house for Black male students at the University of Iowa in their previous house at 9 E. Prentiss Street. Bettye later worked in the University of Iowa’s cardiovascular laboratory for 22 years until she retired in 1976. The Tates had operated a rooming house for Black male students before 1940, and they continued this practice at their new 12-room house on Dubuque Street. The Tate Arms housed up to 20 students at a time, with many of the roomers staying for holidays and over the summer. The rooming house was named the Tate Arms from the time it opened in 1940, and advertisements for the Tate Arms noted that it was authorized by the University of Iowa.
The Tates ran a strict house, with Bettye being known to lay down the law. There was no liquor allowed in the house or women in any of the bedrooms, and Bettye made sure the roomers knew they had household responsibilities such as making their beds and changing their sheets. Many former boarders who went on to earn advanced degrees became judges, doctors, and lawyers. Several attributed the high success rate of Tate Arms roomers to Bettye’s discipline.
The Tates ran the house until 1961, shortly before Bud and Bettye Tate divorced. At the time Bettye Tate closed the Tate Arms which was one of the last remaining rooming house for Black students in Iowa City since the University of Iowa had been allowing Black students to live on campus for over a decade. Housing discrimination by private landlords was still common throughout the city, however. Until the Fair Housing Amendment to the Iowa Civil Rights Act was passed in 1967, landlords were still legally allowed to discriminate against tenants due to race.
Bettye Tate sold Tate Arms in 1979. It has been scheduled for demolition several times since then, including as recently as 2014 when it was designated an Iowa City Historic Landmark.
Tate Arms (current)
African American Civil Rights Grant Products
- National Register Nomination for Tate Arms
- National Register Nomination for Iowa Federation Home
- Preserving Black History in Iowa City Brochure