A. Lilliam Edmunds


"Lillian Edmunds was the Martin Luther King of the Des Moines area during the depression."
— George W. Robinson, Jr., 1988

A. Lillian Edmunds, a pioneer in race relations, inspired young African-American people with vision and hope at a time when their opportunities for education and meaningful employment were almost nonexistent. Born in 1892, she experienced racial discrimination herself when, educated as a nurse and pharmacist, she was unable to find permanent employment in either profession. She directed the Negro Community Center in Des Moines, later named Willkie House, from 1922 until her death in 1955. Edmunds assisted in organizing the Iowa-Nebraska Federation of Settlement Houses. At Willkie House, Edmunds always had her door open. She encouraged adults and youth in goal-setting, and she developed neighborhood leadership by strengthening residents' self-esteem. To expand the well-baby clinic program, she secured a volunteer black doctor. Edmunds dedicated herself as a role model and second parent to many children. She served on the Iowa Commission on Children and Youth and was a delegate to the White House Conference on Children and Youth in 1950. A Des Moines elementary school was named in her honor in 1973. She was recognized posthumously by the Iowa Welfare Association for her valued contributions to welfare programs.Edmunds was inducted into the Iowa Women's Hall of Fame in 1988.