Zella Powell and Ona Norton are featured in exhibit at Booth Library

University Newsletter

Zella Powell and Ona Norton are featured in exhibit at Booth Library

Eastern Illinois University

A new exhibit at Booth Library features Zella Powell and Ona Norton. The former Douglas Hall was recently renamed to honor these women with strong ties to the university and Mattoon and Charleston communities.

Women of Distinction: Zella Powell and Ona Norton is on display in the Marvin Foyer until Dec. 19, 2022. The exhibit is open to the public and free to view whenever the library building is open.

Zella Powell

Zella Powell is believed to be Eastern’s first Black graduate, Class of 1910. Zella and her family were from Mattoon, and after her mother died, she wanted to stay close to her father. She enrolled at what was then called the Eastern Illinois State Normal School to study education, specifically teaching.

Powell married after graduating and moved to Chicago with her husband, Albert Lovett. Her granddaughter, Stephanie Wright-Griggs, has created an exhibit about Zella titled Picture Perfect: Zella’s Traveling Scrapbook that features many photos of Zella’s childhood, in addition to keepsakes such as a scrapbook and diary. These are on display as part of the library’s exhibit.

Ona Norton

Ona Norton is best known for helping to house Black students beginning in 1950. Norton herself took a few classes at EIU and lived in Charleston for over 90 years.

Ralph Kohl, a former football coach for EIU, reached out to Norton and her husband, Kenneth, for help regarding housing for Black students from Chicago. After this, Ona and Kenneth continued helping men and women find housing in the area, regardless of enrollment to EIU.

Booth Library’s Bradley Tolppanen, head of University Archives and Special Collections, and librarian David Bell have curated photos and other information about the Nortons to include in the exhibit.


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