About Helen Lemme

  • Helen Lemme Helen Lemme, born in Grinnell, Iowa on February 25, 1904, was an African-American woman who was prominent in Iowa City and who housed and fed many African-American students attending the University of Iowa.

    She began her university studies in 1923 at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, but in 1925 moved to the University of Iowa, where she studied science and biology and served as the president of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority. During the 1930s and 1940s, Helen Lemme and her husband Allyn Lemme opened their home to African-American students when they were not allowed to live in University of Iowa dormitories.

    Lemme devoted her life to the rights of African Americans and women, and she was an active member of the Democratic Party. She served as a precinct committeewoman, a delegate at state and county conventions, and member of the Democratic Party Black Caucus.

    Locally, Lemme was involved in the Human Rights Commission and the Iowa City Area Council of Churches. She was elected President of the Iowa City League of Women Voters in 1946 and Iowa City Woman of the Year in 1955. A few years later, she was the first Black woman in Iowa City to be awarded the Best Citizen of the Year.

    Helen Lemme Elementary School in Iowa City was built in 1970 in honor of Helen Lemme's dedication to helping disadvantaged and discriminated African-American students.