Gertrude Elorza Rush (Durden), was born on August 5, 1880 in Navasota, Texas. She was the daughter of Frank and Sarah Durden (Reinhardt). Gertrude married James Buchanan Rush, a lawyer, on December 23, 1907.
Ms. Rush attended Des Moines College and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1914. She completed her third year of the study of law by way of correspondence with LaSalle University of Chicago.
Ms. Rush passed the Bar Exam in 1918 but she was denied admittance to the American Bar Association six years later in 1924. Despite this setback, she still became the first African-American woman in Iowa to practice law, having taken over her husband’s practice after his death in 1918. She would remain the only African-American woman to do so until the 1950s.
Ms. Rush, along with several African-American men, founded the National Bar Association, which was founded after a number of African-Americans, including herself, were denied entry to the American Bar Association. The Des Moines chapter officially became a chartered chapter of the National Bar Association in 1925.
Her law practice primarily focused on women’s legal rights, mainly in estate cases. Being an advocate for women and African Americans, she and her team led to the appointment of the first black probation officer.
In addition to her work in law, she was an advocate for the advancement of African-Americans and women. Ms. Rush was involved in a number of other organizations dedicated to the rights of African-American women. She served as the state president of the Iowa Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs from 1911 to 1915.
One of these organizations, the Colored Women’s Suffrage Club, worked to help African-American women obtain the right to vote. She was a member of this organization and an advocate for women’s right to vote. Ms. Rush specifically supported African-American women’s right to vote because she saw the chance to start a fight for better conditions, rights, and an end to some racial injustices. She saw a black woman’s vote as an opportunity for equality and as a push to end racial discrimination and injustices.
Profile written by Allyn Benkowich and Kristen Corey, Office on the Status of Women
Photo credit: Iowa Department of Human Rights, Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame
African American Women in the Struggle for the Vote, 1850-1920