The legacy of Daisy Lloyd: A brief history of black Hoosier women in office

Daisy Lloyd was the first black woman to serve in state elected office in Indiana

Last month, the May 19 Sunday edition of the Indianapolis Star ran an obituary notice for Dr. Daisy R. Lloyd. Outside of those 13 paragraphs–buried on page A29, the fourth and final page of paid obituaries placed by local funeral homes–there was apparently no media coverage of her passing locally or anywhere else in the state.

55 years ago, it would have been hard to imagine that her death would warrant such little fanfare: As a freshman legislator in 1965, she was diagnosed with breast cancer just days into her first, and only, legislative session. She held a televised press conference from her hospital room to reassure constituents she would return to work at the State House. After surgery and a short recovery period, she did exactly that, returning to work by mid-February.

But it wasn’t the breast cancer diagnosis that made Lloyd’s short tenure as a State Representative particularly notable. Instead, Lloyd’s election in 1964 made her the first black woman to serve in the Indiana General Assembly, a fact that is widely acknowledged in the historical record and in her obituary. What has been missed, however, is that (as far as I can tell) Lloyd was also the first black woman to hold any state or federal elected office in Indiana.

Lloyd’s election wasn’t an isolated event, either, but the start of a trend. In the elections of 1966 and 1968, Harriette Bailey Conn was elected to two terms in the House. While no black women were elected in 1970, Julia Carson was elected in 1972 and there has been at least one black female legislator in every session since (and since 1978, there has been at least one black woman in each chamber).

In 1974, Carson was joined in the House by Katie Hall, and then both were elected to the State Senate in 1976, sharing the distinction of becoming the first black women to serve in that chamber. In 1982, Hall would become the first black member of Congress, male or female, in Indiana’s history (Carson would become the second after her own election to Congress in 1996).

It wasn’t until 1992 that a black woman would win statewide office in Indiana, when Pam Carter was elected Attorney General. In the process, she also became the first black female to serve as Attorney General in any U.S. state. The only other black female to hold statewide office in Indiana is Karen Freeman-Wilson, the current mayor of Gary who was appointed to serve as Attorney General for 11 months in 2000.

In total, there have been 18 black women to hold state or federal office over the past 55 years. Six (33%) of them are still serving in office today, all of them in the General Assembly. Of those six, one serves as the second-highest ranking Democrat in the Senate (Assistant Minority Floor Leader Jean Breaux), and one serves as the second-highest ranking Democrat in the House (Minority Floor Leader Cherrish Pryor).

While all of them owe a debt of gratitude to Daisy Lloyd for blazing the trail, so, too, does every Hoosier who hopes for a government that is truly reflective of its constituents. We may have failed to notice her passing, but we can still recognize the contributions she made towards a more inclusive Indiana.

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