Records of the Renfrow Family

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US-GCS DCL Coll-Coll-279 Row G FAMILY Renfrow

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Records of the Renfrow Family


  • late 1800s - 2000s (Creation)


Quantity: one grey letter-size document box

Arrangement: Chronological by date of birth

Background Note:

The Renfrow family moved to Grinnell, Iowa in 1910 and were one of the few African American families who lived in the town at that time. All six Renfrow children attended Grinnell High School and went on to attend various universities. They were encouraged in their pursuit of higher education by their mother Eva Craig Renfrow (1875 – 1962), who greatly valued education and encouraged her children to attain it.

Lee Augustus Renfrow (1873 – 1945) and Eva Craig Renfrow (1875 – 1962) raised six children in the town of Grinnell, Iowa. Lee was born in Texas and lived in Kansas and Minnesota before settling down in Grinnell. He married Eva in 1901 and later worked as a cook at the Monroe Hotel in town. Eva’s grandmother was born into slavery in South Carolina. Her mother Eliza was raised by a Quaker woman who moved with the girl to Oskaloosa, Iowa, where Eva was born free along with her two sisters.

Helen Renfrow Lemme (1904 – 1968) was a political activist in Iowa City who was very active in Democratic Party politics and was President of her local chapter of the League of Women Voters. She and her husband Allyn would also host Black students at their home in Iowa City who were denied housing in the segregated university dormitories. Helen was recognized in 1955 as the first African American to be named “Best Citizen of Iowa City”. Today, Helen Lemme Elementary school is named in her honor.

Alice Renfrow (1906 – 1997) worked at the Library of Congress for forty years, beginning in April 1935 in the Card Division. She also served as secretary to Dr. E. Franklin Frazier, who was a professor at Howard University and had published several books about the pathology of race prejudice. She retired in 1976 as the Supervisor of Filing in the Catalog Management Division. She is buried in Hazelwood cemetery in Grinnell with her parents and her brothers Rudolph and Paul.

Rudolph Renfrow (1907 – 1972) attended the historically Black college Hampton Institute where he helped organize a strike of Black students to protest the manner in which the white administrators at Hampton treated the students. Rudolph graduated from Hampton as Valedictorian and later moved to Washington, D.C., where he joined the New Negro Alliance and advocated against segregated businesses. Rudolph enlisted in the U.S Army at the close of World War II in 1943 before resuming his work for Investors Syndicate. He is buried at Hazelwood Cemetery in Grinnell with his parents and his siblings Alice and Paul.

Evanel Renfrow Terrell (1908 – 1994) earned a Master’s degree from the University of Iowa in 1935 and in 1939 began teaching at the Tuskegee Institute as the head of the Department of Foods and Nutrition. In 1949 she was appointed associate professor and Director of the Division of Home Economics at Savannah State College. Evanel was a lifetime member of the service oriented African-American sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha. The Savannah chapter, Gamma Sigma Omega, established an annual scholarship in Evanel’s name.

Edith Renfrow Smith (b. 1914) was born in Grinnell, Iowa and is the first African American woman to graduate from Grinnell College. After graduation, Edith moved to Chicago where she spent more than two decades as a schoolteacher and was neighbors with a young Herbie Hancock, who she encouraged to attend Grinnell College as well. Today, Edith is part of Northwest University’s SuperAgers research program, which analyzes the brains, lifestyle, psychology, and life stories of people who have stayed mentally sharp at age 80 and beyond. In 2019, Edith was awarded an honorary degree from Grinnell College. Two spaces on campus are named for her, the Black Women’s Library in the Black Cultural Center and the Smith student art gallery.

Container List:
Folder 1. Renfrow, Lee Augustus (1873 – 1945)
Folder 2. Renfrow, Eva Craig (1875 – 1962)
Folder 3. Lemme, Helen Renfrow (1904 – 1968)
Folder 4. Renfrow, Alice Lee (1906 – 1997)
Folder 5. Renfrow, Rudolph Bolden (1907 – 1972)
Folder 6. Renfrow, Evanel Elizabeth (1908 – 1994)
Folder 7. Smith, Edith Renfrow (1914 –
Folder 8. Renfrow - Lucus - Craig Family Tree
Grinnell Stories blog posts by Professor Dan Kaiser
"Whose Stories Deserve to be Told?"
"Helen Sets the Tone..."
"Alice at the Library... of Congress!"
"Rudolph Renfrow: A Black Life That Mattered"
"Evanel, the academic..."

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See also Grinnell Stories: African Americans of Early Grinnell by Daniel Kaiser, Grinnell College Professor
Drake Community Library Adult Nonfiction 977.7 KAI

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Archivist's note

Name of Preparer: C. Neubert, V. Ruse

Date of Preparation: 7/19; 12/21; 8/22

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