First Female African American
elected to Missouri Senate —
THE DISTINCTION OF BECOMING the first Black woman elected to the Missouri State Senate belongs to Gwen Giles of St. Louis. Beginning in the 1960s, Giles promoted involvement of St. Louis religious leaders in the civil rights movement. She was a member of the Archdiocesan Commission on Human Rights. She was also the first woman and the first Black to hold the position of St. Louis City assessor, which she took after resigning from the Senate in 1968.
In 1973, St. Louis Mayor John Poelker appointed her commissioner of human relations. In this position, she updated a city ordinance to protect women, the elderly and people with disabilities, and promoted passage of the 1976 Comprehensive Civil Rights Ordinance.
Among Giles’s accomplishments was the appointment by President Jimmy Carter to a task force to assist in selecting talented women for positions in the federal government. She was a pioneer as well as a role model for women in generations to come.
Giles was born in Atlanta, GA on May 14, 1932 and died on March 15, 1986.