Marguerite Esters Cothorn


"Marguerite has 'presence,' an undefinable dignity which inspires respect and admiration from everyone who has the privilege of meeting her."
—Mary A. Grefe

Marguerite Esters Cothorn, born in Albia, Iowa in 1909, has been involved in human services, voluntarism, and music for more than 40 years. She was the first African American to be offered a four-year violin scholarship at Drake University, where she obtained a B.A. and an advanced degree in sociology. In 1954, she completed her second advanced degree, an M.A. in social work from The University of Iowa with a minor in psychology. Throughout her career, she focused on developing and organizing community-centered volunteer services and programs. In 1965, she was appointed to the United Way of Central Iowa. As Associate Director of Planning, she was reportedly the first African-American executive of a United Way Agency nationwide. She organized and directed the Des Moines Volunteer Bureau and Retired Senior Volunteer Program and set precedents for correcting the under-utilization of food stamps by elders. Her volunteer service has included the state Republican Party and the Iowa Civil Rights Commission. Cothorn formally retired in 1973 but continues to be a strong and effective leader on several boards and commissions. Cothorn was inducted into the Iowa Women's Hall of Fame in 1986.

UPDATE: Cothorn served on the Governor's Volunteer Advisory Council, was appointed spokesperson on Women's issues for the American Association of Retired Persons, served as member of Broadlawns Medical Center Study Committee, and chaired the Study Committee on Des Moines International Airport. Cothorn served over 10 years on the Board of Des Moines Playground and Recreation Association. She continued to be active with the League of Women Voters until her death in 1999.