Virginia Keys Jones Coffey, one of the foremost
civil rights leaders in Cincinnati, was born in Wheeling,
West Virginia on December 14, 1904. Determined that their
children would attend integrated schools, her parents, Mary
and Edward Jones, moved the family to Grand Rapids, Michigan
when Virginia was 4 years old. Virginia graduated from Western
Michigan University with a degree in education, studied sociology
at the University of Cincinnati, and received a master’s
degree from Western Reserve University in Cleveland.
Coffey moved to Cincinnati in the early 1920s where her first
job was teaching in the city’s all-black Stowe
School. Distressed to find Cincinnati deeply segregated,
her stay might have been short if Theodore
Berry had not encouraged her to stay and join the local
chapter of the NAACP.
She left teaching after several years to devote her life to
tireless work for racial equality.
General Photograph Collection.
Cincinnati History Library and Archives.
Cincinnati Museum Center.
From 1926 to 1931, she was secretary of the West End branch of the
YWCA and became
its executive director in 1932. In the 1940s she married William A.
Coffey, organized the first Girl Scout troop for African-American
girls, and accepted the position of director of religious education
and youth activities for Carmel Presbyterian Church. In 1948 she was
named deputy director of the Mayor’s Friendly Relations Committee,
predecessor to the Cincinnati
Human Relations Commission. She held this position until 1962
when she resigned to become community relations supervisor for Seven
Hills Neighborhood Houses (1962-1965).
Virginia Coffey was a leader in working toward removing racial restrictions
in restaurants, businesses, and public facilities. In the 1950s, during
her tenure on the Mayor’s Friendly Relations Committee, there
were attempts to effect institution changes within the city to advance
the civil rights of citizens. Several events stand out as examples
of these efforts: integration of the city’s swimming pools beginning
with Owl’s Nest Park in O’Bryonville in June 1950 and
the opening of Coney Island amusement park’s gates to African-Americans
Coffey became executive director of the Cincinnati Human Relations
Commission in 1968 and served in this position until her resignation
December 31, 1973. She was the first African American and the first
woman to hold this position. In the 1960s, Virginia Coffey directed
the Memorial Community Center (1965-1968), and was a human relations
consultant for the University of Cincinnati. She also served on the
board of the Hamilton County Welfare Department, on the president’s
council of Xavier University and the advisory council of the Cincinnati
Community Chest (now United Appeal). She retired in 1978.
Virginia Coffey was recognized for her successes in the fields of
human relations and civil rights. In 1968 she was voted an Enquirer
Woman of the Year. She received the Governor’s Award for Community
Action in 1973, the Good Neighbor Award in 1989, and the Great Living
Cincinnatian Award in 1993..
Virginia Keys Jones Coffey died on August 26, 2003 and is buried in
Spring Grove Cemetery.
To learn more about Virginia Coffey, consult the following
Virginia Coffey Papers, 1935-1984
This collection contains correspondence, awards, clippings and other
materials pertaining to Virginia Coffey and her work with the Mayor's
Friendly Relations Committee, the Cincinnati Human Relations Commission
and other organizations. For more information, please consult the
collection register available in the Library. Request
Mss 1 AT, Interview 10
In this 1980 interview, Virginia Coffey gives details about her family
and educational background as well as her personal activities. Included
are comments on her work with the Civil Rights Movement and the NAACP,
and issues facing the African American community. Request
Women Working Audio Collection
Mss 2 AT, Interview 4
This oral interview with Stephanie Corsbie discusses Virginia Coffey's
work with the Girl Scouts, the Mayor's Friendly Relations Committee,
the Seven Hills Neighborhood House, and the Cincinnati Human Relations
Sources Used for Biographical Sketch:
“Mrs. Berry Submits Report On Swimming
Pool Incident,” Cincinnati Enquirer, June 27, 1950.
Josten, Margaret, “No-Nonsense Beliefs
Mark CHRC Chief : Mrs. Coffey Gets Commission Post,” Cincinnati
Enquirer, January 5, 1968.
Horstman, Barry M. “Virginia Coffey: In
Fight for Civil Rights, She Was Out Front,” Cincinnati
Post, March 24, 1999.
Goodman, Rebecca. “Virginia Coffey Fought
against Discrimination,” Cincinnati Enquirer, August
Adeline Harris Collection, "Virginia
Coffey interview," Mss 1 AT, Interview 10, Cincinnati History Library and Archives, Cincinnati Museum Center.