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THE BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY OF IOWA

University of Iowa Press Digital Editions
Rush, Gertrude Elzora Durden
(August 5, 1880–September 5, 1962)

–women's leader, lawyer, writer, educator, organization founder and leader, and the first black woman admitted to the Iowa bar—was born in Navasota, Texas, the daughter of Frank Durden, a Baptist minister, and Sarah E. (Reinhardt) Durden. Following the lead of others in the exodus from the South to the Midwest during the early 1880s, her family left Texas to ultimately settle in Oskaloosa, Kansas. After beginning her studies at Parsons (Kansas) High School (1895-1898), she finished in Quincy, Illinois. Between 1898 and 1907 Rush was a teacher in Oswego, Kansas; governmental schools in Indian Territory (later Oklahoma); and Des Moines.

    After marrying James Buchanan Rush on December 23, 1907, Gertrude Rush began studying law with her husband while working in his Des Moines law office. James Rush, born near Peking, North Carolina, had attended Howard University School of Law and subsequently gained admission to the Indiana bar in 1892. After working in Indiana and Arkansas, he began practicing law in Iowa in 1898 and continued until 1918. An active member of Des Moines' business community, he served as counsel for the North Star Temple Association, vice president of the Des Moines Business League, and delegate to the Republican State Convention.

    No doubt with her husband's encouragement, Gertrude Rush furthered her education at Des Moines College, graduating with a B.A. in 1914. Concurrently, she completed her third year of law study by way of correspondence with LaSalle University of Chicago. Although James did not live to see it, Gertrude became the first African American woman admitted to practice law in Iowa—and one of the first in the Midwest—after successfully passing the bar examination and being admitted to the Iowa bar in 1918. Until 1950 she remained the only African American woman to achieve such a status in Iowa.

    Upon James's death, Gertrude took over his practice in Des Moines. In 1921 she won election as president of the Colored Bar Association. Her leadership in that association was unique, as she became the first woman in the nation leading a state bar association that included both male and female members. After being denied admission to the American Bar Association, in 1925 Rush and four other black lawyers founded the Negro Bar Association (later renamed the National Bar Association), with the purpose of uniting black lawyers throughout the nation.

    In addition to taking over her husband's law practice, Gertrude Rush also took his place as a community activist. While focusing on women's legal rights in estate cases in her law practice, she also looked to other avenues for community improvement. In 1912 Rush headed the Charity League that served Des Moines' African American community. The league was successful in having a black probation officer appointed in the Des Moines Juvenile Court and creating the Protection Home for Negro Girls, a shelter for working girls. Between 1911 and 1915 Rush served as state president of the National Association of Colored Women's Clubs (NACWC). Later she would chair the NACWC's Legislative and Mothers departments. She also maintained memberships in the Colored Women's Suffrage Club and the Women's Auxiliary of the National Baptist Convention, and served on the boards of directors for the Des Moines Health Center, the Des Moines Playground Association, and the Dramatic Arts Club. She organized the Women's Law and Political Study Group, served as a delegate to the Half Century Exposition of Negro Emancipation, and was a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

    Gertrude Durden Rush combined her religious, legal, and civic passions with research and writing. Among her accomplishments were extensive research on the 240 women of the Bible; numerous plays and pageants, such as Sermon on the Mount (1907) and Black Girl's Burden (1913); hymns such as "If You But Knew" (1905) and "Jesus Loves the Little Children" (1907); and patriotic plays such as True Framers of the American Constitution (1928).
Sources include Darren Smith, ed., Black Americans Information Directory (1990); Jessie Carney Smith, ed., Notable Black American Women, Book 2 (1996); Who's Who in Colored America (1927); and Who's Who in Colored America, 7th ed. (1950).
Contributor: Rick L. Woten

Cite as: Woten, Rick L. "Rush, Gertrude Elzora Durden" The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009. Web. 17 September 2014