Merle Wilna Fleming


"To me, Merle is the epitome of the strong, talented, and dedicated human being whom we might construct as the ideal Iowa woman."
—James A. Thomas, 1987

Merle Wilna Fleming's career has focused on civil rights and education reform. She was appointed to the first Iowa Civil Rights Commission, serving as its chair from 1966 to 1968. Later, as Hearing Examiner for the Commission, Fleming heard the first sex discrimination case to reach public hearing. Volunteer work with the League of Women Voters helped guide Fleming toward her efforts at state education reform. A member of the local board of the League from 1950 to 1954 and 1963 to 1964, she served on the state board of the League from 1965 to 1966 and was its education chair. Fleming entered law school at the age of 50, graduating with distinction. As an assistant attorney general, she wrote opinions concerning education that include those relating to the use of school buildings by religious groups, the possible redistricting of Iowa schools every ten years, and teaching creationism in public schools. Following her early retirement, Fleming has assisted the Iowa School Board Association in preparing a manual to implement affirmative action requirements for Iowa's school districts. She was inducted into the Iowa Women's Hall of Fame in 1990.

UPDATE: Fleming has served on the Des Moines Strategic Planning Commission from 1997-99 (its chair 1997-98), continues to serve as a hearing officer for the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services on a case-by-case basis, and serves as parliamentarian for Drake University Head Start Policy Council. She is a member of the American Bar Association, Iowa Bar Association, Polk County Bar Association, and Polk County Women Attorneys. In 1995, Fleming retired from Ahlers Law Firm in Des Moines, where she specialized in Education Law. From 1994-95, she served as chair of the IBA Women and Minorities Committee and from 1993-96 the IBA Administrative Law Section Council. Fleming chaired the Study of Iowa Budget Process Committee of the League of Women Voters of Iowa. She was board member and president of the League of Women Voters of Metro Des Moines. Fleming has also served as a board member of the Iowa Civil Liberties Union, serving as president for one year, has chaired the Des Moines Strategic Planning Commission, and is the vice-president of the Metro Des Moines Opera Guild. She died on November 26, 2006.