Gertrude Elzora Durden Rush


Biographical Database of Black Woman Suffragists

Biography of Gertrude Elzora Durden Rush, 1880-1962


By Danielle Hoskins, PhD Candidate, University of Iowa

Gertrude Elzora Durden was born in 1880 in Navasota, Texas, the only child of Frank Durden, a Baptist minister, and Sarah E. Reinhardt Durden. The family moved to Kansas, where she attended Parsons High School in from 1895-1898. She completed high school in Quincy, IL. Rush then taught at the American Indian Territorial Government School in Oswego, Kansas, and worked in sales at a dry goods store in Chicago before moving to Des Moines, Iowa, in 1901. She married lawyer James B. Rush in 1907. Rush earned a BA at Des Moines College in 1914, and graduated from Quincy Business College in 1919. A talented author and playwright, Rush wrote several songs, pageants and plays during her lifetime.

Gertrude Rush was a pioneer in legal practice in Iowa, and through her career became influential among African American lawyers nationally. She began studying law under her husband in 1908, and received a law degree from Drake University in Des Moines. Sadly, her husband passed away a month before she received word she was admitted to the Iowa Bar Association in 1918, making her the first black female lawyer in Iowa. She was the only black woman lawyer in Iowa for more than thirty years, and was among the earliest black women lawyers in the United States. Rush also passed the Illinois bar, and maintained a law office in Chicago, commuting between there and Des Moines. She was elected as president of the Colored Bar Association of Des Moines, becoming the first woman in the nation to lead a state bar association that included both male and female members. After being denied entry to the American Bar Association in 1924, she and four black male colleagues founded the Iowa Negro Bar Association, which became the National Bar Association. The National Bar Association continues to honor Rush’s legacy with an annual dinner in her name and the Gertrude E. Rush Trailblazer Award, which recognizes individuals as leaders in their communities and as pioneers in civil and human rights.

In addition to her legal work, Rush was a civil rights and suffrage activist, and was heavily involved in women’s clubs and charity and civic organizations. She founded the Charity Welfare league in 1912, which maintained a home for African American women and girls in Des Moines from 1917 to 1930. She was a charter member of the Des Moines Playground Association and the Des Moines Health Center. As a member of the Colored Women’s Suffrage Club, she volunteered her husband’s law offices for club meetings. She pursued community improvement during her time as president of the Iowa State Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs from 1911-1915, and served as chairman of the Legislative Department of the National Association of Colored Women from 1924-1926. She became involved in the NAACP through her husband, and continued her membership after his death.

Rush was a lifelong member of the Baptist Church, and wrote the lyrics for two songs, “If You But Knew,” (1905), and “Jesus Loves Little Children” (1907) which were still sung in Baptist Churches decades later. She donated her legal expertise to the Baptist Church, serving as attorney for the women’s auxiliary of the National Baptist convention for twenty-five years. Through her work in the auxiliary, she attended international Baptist conferences in Europe, Asia, and Africa.

Rush suffered a stroke in 1958, forcing her to semi-retire from her legal practice and community service, but she continued to be involved in social and civic activism until her death in 1962. She was inducted posthumously into the Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame in 1994.


“The Des Moines suffrage club…” Iowa State Bystander, Des Moines, Iowa, Friday, January 7, 1916.

Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame Records, Iowa Women’s Archives, The University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City.

Smith, Jessie Carney, ed. “Gertrude E. Durden Rush,” Notable Black American Women, Book 2. (Detroit, MI: Gale Research Inc., 1996), 575-577.

Woten, Rick L. “Rush, Gertrude Elzora Durden.” The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009.


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