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State Historical Society of Iowa

Two Iowa City landmarks added to National Register of Historic

Mar 9, 2020

Two Iowa City landmarks have officially been added to the National Register of Historic Places after a three-year campaign to increase awareness and education about their role in the city’s history.

The two houses, known as the Iowa Federation Home for Colored Girls and Tate Arms, operated from the early- to mid-1900s and housed African American students at the University of Iowa at a time when their options were limited.

“Congratulations to all who worked so hard to successfully nominate the Iowa Federation Home for Colored Girls and Tate Arms to the National Register of Historic Places,” State Historian Laura Sadowsky said. “This recognition marks an important milestone for Iowa City as it continues to preserve its history for future generations.”

Owners of the two properties received a grant in 2016 to nominate them for the National Register as well as develop education, signage, and print and digital materials. They were officially listed as historic properties in December of 2019.

Iowa has often been at the forefront of civil rights progress, granting rights to minority groups and banning discrimination long before many other states. In 1868, Iowa became the second state to outlaw segregation in schools, and as early as the 1870s, the University of Iowa began admitting African American students.

Although they were able to attend the University of Iowa, African American students faced hurdles during their time in college. For many years, only white students received spots in dormitories provided by the university so African American students, citizens and a private organization banded together to fund two dormitories.

The first one, the Iowa Federation Home for Colored Girls, was acquired by the Iowa Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs specifically for African American female students. The home's residents saw many trials over the years, including racist threats from neighbors and the Ku Klux Klan, as well as financial difficulties during the Great Depression.

The home was active from 1919 through1951, even though the university desegregated its dorms in 1946. One resident, Helen Lemme, was a civil rights activist and an advocate for greater representation of African American voters. After graduating, she also provided housing for African American students in her Iowa City home before the dormitories were desegregated.

The second home, Tate Arms, was privately purchased and owned by Elizabeth “Bettye” Tate and her husband, Junious “Bud” Tate. The 12-room house accommodated up to 20 students at a time, including many who were allowed to stay during holidays and summer. But Bettye Tate was known to be strict; she prohibited alcohol in the house and women in the men's bedrooms, and she enforced household responsibilities. Many said her stringency was what induced such a high success rate; several boarders went on to become judges, doctors and lawyers.

The Tates ran the house from 1940 to 1961 – 15 years after the university dorms desegregated – and it was one of the last houses specifically designated for African American students. The rest of the state would have to wait until 1967 to fully end private housing discrimination with the passage of the Fair Housing Amendment.

The two homes in Iowa City represent the national struggle for African Americans to find reliable housing in a time when segregation was the rule, not the exception. By opening their doors, the Iowa Federation Home for Colored Girls and Tate Arms opened figurative doors – to education, opportunities and future success – to a generation of African Americans at the University of Iowa.

The Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs and its three divisions – the Iowa Arts Council, Produce Iowa - State Office of Media Production and the State Historical Society of Iowa – empower Iowa to build and sustain culturally vibrant communities by connecting Iowans to the people, places and points of pride that define our state. The department’s work enables Iowa to be recognized as a state that fosters creativity and serves as a catalyst for innovation where the stories of Iowa are preserved and communicated to connect past, present and future generations.