Emma Lou Thornbrough

Emma Lou Thornbrough
(January 24, 1913 – December 19, 1994)

It seems fitting to mark Women’s History Month with a female historian. Emma Lou Thornbrough was born in Indianapolis and attended Shortridge High School, just east of Crown Hill’s 34th St. entrance. She received an undergraduate degree in 1934 and a master’s degree in 1936 from Butler University and began a career teaching history at Indianapolis’s George Washington High School. In 1946, she earned a Ph.D. in history from the University of Michigan and returned to Indianapolis to teach at Butler.

With her doctorate in hand and based upon her dissertation entitled “Negro Slavery in the North: Its Legal and Constitutional Aspects,” she began her career at Butler. She tried her hand at politics, running as a Democratic candidate for the General Assembly in 1952, but after losing that, she continued to be active in civic affairs through being on the executive boards of both the Indiana Civil Liberties Union and the Indianapolis NAACP.

While on a sabbatical in 1956, Ms. Thornbrough completed a book about a New York prominent Black man named Timothy Thomas Fortune, before focusing her writing on Hoosier subjects. Her little book about Eliza Blaker, a pioneer in kindergartens whom we covered last year, also came out in 1956, followed by The Negro in Indiana before 1900 in 1957. She received a commission from the Indiana Historical Society to write Indiana in the Civil War Era 1850-1880, a thick book published in 1965, the same year she received the Butler Outstanding Professor Award. She had all but completed her Indiana Blacks in the 20th Century at the time of her death and it was published posthumously in 2000.

Her sister, Gayle, who is buried beside her, was an editor and director of the Indiana Historical Society. The Society recognizes the best article published in their magazine each year with the annual “Thornbrough Award” as a tribute to them both.

For more information on Thornbrough, click here.

Location: Section 98, Lot 79; GPS (39.8154199, -86.1693670)