Key Highlights About the Life of Minnie Buckingham Harper:
First African-American female legislator in the United States
Prominent resident and leader of West Virginia
Appointed to fill her husband’s unexpired House of Delegates term after his death
Declined to run for office after term was up
Minnie Buckingham Harper was the first female African-American legislator in the United States.
She was born in Winfield, Putnam County, in 1886, later moving to the coalfields of McDowell County. Harper was living in Keystone when Governor Howard Gore appointed her to fill her husband’s unexpired House of Delegates term after his death. She was supported by a unanimous recommendation from the McDowell County Republican Executive Committee.
Her role as a state delegate became symbolic of both the growing influence of women in American politics and African-Americans in southern West Virginia politics during the 1920s. Her appointment reflected both the growing role of women in American politics and the maturation of an African-American political coalition in southern West Virginia, which by the 1920s, had become an important part of the party structure of the state.
Harper served less than a term in the House of Delegates, declining to run for the office in the next election. She later married John B. Patterson, a miner, and lived with him in Northfork until his 1956 death. Harper died in 1978.