Born in Milwaukee, Velvalea Rogers Phillips (1924–2018) attended Howard University and, in 1951, became the first African American woman to graduate from the University of Wisconsin–Madison law school. Just five years later, she was elected to the Milwaukee Common Council, becoming the first African American and the first woman to do so. While serving on the common council, Phillips worked on behalf of women and minorities. She participated in nonviolent protests against discrimination in housing, education, and employment. In 1962, she introduced Milwaukee’s first open-housing ordinance. In 1971, Phillips was appointed to the Milwaukee County judiciary, making her the first woman judge in Milwaukee and the first African American judge in Wisconsin. She was elected Wisconsin Secretary of State in 1978, becoming the first African American elected to a statewide constitutional office.
On display in the exhibit: Vel Phillips’s desk from her time on the Milwaukee Common Council, 1956–late 1960s.
Badge, Democratic National Committee, Atlantic City, New Jersey, 1964, presented to Milwaukee City Coucilwoman Vel Phillips. Gavel presented to Judge Vel Phillips by the National Organization for Women, 1971. Sign, Judge Vel Phillips, Milwaukee County Children’s Court, Wauwatosa, 1971–1972.