Helen Booker Ivey (1896?–1946)

Helen Booker Ivey was a longtime teacher and principal in Little Rock (Pulaski County) public schools. The Colored Branch of the Little Rock Public Library was renamed in her honor in 1951. The branch library continued to operate and serve as a community meeting place throughout the 1960s.

Helen Booker Ivey was the daughter of Dr. Joseph A. Booker and Mary Jane Caver Booker; her father was the first president of Arkansas Baptist College and a leader in Arkansas’s African-American community. Her date of birth is uncertain: the 1900 census states that she was born in December 1896, while the 1930 census places her age as thirty-two, indicating an 1898 birth; her gravestone has a 1901 birthdate. She attended Arkansas Baptist College and Hampton Institute before receiving her degree from Illinois Technical College. She also did post-graduate work in administrative education at the University of Chicago.

She married W. L. Ivey on October 14, 1923. The couple divorced in 1927.

Helen Ivey began her twenty-two-year career in education in 1924. She taught at Gibbs Junior High School, as well as Bush, Dunbar, and East End schools, sometimes serving two schools simultaneously as head assistant. She became principal of South End in 1940 and in 1942 was named principal of Capital Hill School. Ivey was an active member of the Young Women’s Christian Association, the Urban League, Delta Sigma Theta sorority, and the Arkansas Baptist Alumni Association, in which she served at least one term as president.

Ivey died on June 19, 1946, and some 2,000 people attended her funeral at Little Rock’s Mount Zion Baptist Church, where her body lay in honor from noon until the 3:00 p.m. service. Her obituary on the front page of the Arkansas State Press stated: “As soon as the news of her passing was released, more than three hundred telegrams and messages flooded the Booker home, 1522 Cross Street, where she lived, and began spreading her slogan: ‘Look for the beautiful.’ She tried to carry this slogan into her life and program in the school system.” She is buried in Little Rock’s Haven of Rest Cemetery.

On June 2, 1951, at the urging of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority, the segregated Colored Branch of the Little Rock Public Library at 1413 West 16th Street was designated as the Helen Booker Ivey Library. That same year, circulation at the branch, which included books by and about African Americans in its collections, increased by around 5,000; some 200 new library card holders were also registered at the Ivey branch. The branch remained the primary library for Little Rock’s black community until the library system was fully integrated.

For additional information:
“Deaths of Negroes.” Arkansas Gazette, June 21, 1946, p. 12.

“Helen Booker Ivey, Principal of Capital [sic] Hill, Dies.” Arkansas Gazette, June 20, 1946, p. 10.

“Last Rites Held for Prominent L.R. Matron.” Arkansas State Press, June 28, 1946, p. 1.

Schuette, Shirley, and Nathania Sawyer. From Carnegie to Cyberspace: 100 Years at the Central Arkansas Library System. Little Rock: Butler Center Books, 2010.

“Spring Terms to Begin Monday.” Arkansas Gazette, January 28, 1940, p. 14.

“Teachers Receive Assignments.” Arkansas Gazette, September 6, 1942, p. 9.

Tom W. Dillard Black Arkansiana Materials, Box 8, Folder 3. Butler Center for Arkansas Studies. Central Arkansas Library System, Little Rock, Arkansas. Finding aid online at https://cdm15728.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/findingaids/id/8729 (accessed February 28, 2021).

Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System


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