Velma Bell Hamilton

12-51-001 Allen Family.jpg

The Allen family poses together, including Velma Bell Hamilton's mother, Malvina Allen Bell. Contributed by Cheryl Johnson Caldwell.

Velma Bell Hamilton was born on February 28, 1910 in Pontotoc, Mississippi to parents Walter Bell and Malvina “Mallie” Grace Allen. She and her family moved to Beloit, Wisconsin in Velma’s infant years. Mrs. Hamilton excelled in school, graduating at the top of her class from Beloit High School. She went on to graduate from Beloit College with a degree in sociology in 1930 at the age of 20. She was the seventh Black graduate from the college and the second woman, after Grace Ousley in 1904 (Book of Beloit II 1836-1986, p. 156). Mrs. Hamilton was the first person of color at Beloit College to earn the distinction of Phi Beta Kappa and was the valedictorian of her class (Book of Beloit II, p. 156).

Terrarium #19 - Velma Bell - Phi Beta Kappa.jpg

Velma Bell Hamilton was the first woman of color to receive Phi Beta Kappa at Beloit College. Found in 1930 Beloit Gold yearbook. Beloit College Archives.

According to her typewritten statement from 1988 found in Beloit College Archives, Mrs. Hamilton moved to Greensboro, North Carolina in the fall of 1930 to begin teaching at Bennett College, a historically Black women’s institution. Four years later, she had married her husband, Mr. Harry Hamilton Sr., and began graduate school in sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She was briefly hired as the registrar at another HBCU, Tougaloo College in Mississippi, where her husband taught chemistry. 

Commencement 1991 - Velma Bell Hamilton002.jpg

Velma Bell Hamilton earned an honorary doctorate from Beloit College in 1991. Beloit College Archives.

The couple moved back to the Midwest in 1942 and had their third child in Madison, Wisconsin. During the last years of World War II, Mr. Hamilton supervised at a gunpowder manufacturing plant in Baraboo, Wisconsin. In 1950, Mrs. Hamilton was hired as the first Black teacher in Madison as the chair of the gender studies department at the University of Madison Vocational School (now called Madison Area Technical College). She retired in 1975.

Between decades of teaching and raising her children, Velma Bell Hamilton was an active member of the community, especially during her many years in Madison. Hamilton Middle School in Madison’s west side was named after her. She was a member of the First Congregational Church in Madison and served in various positions in moderating and hospitality. She was the first president of the Madison NAACP in 1943. She held various positions in dozens of local and national organizations, from the Madison YMCA to the Governor’s Committee on Human Rights and the American Association of University Women. She earned honorary doctorates of humane letters from Lakeland College in 1981 and Beloit College in 1991.

Velma Bell Hamilton002.jpg

Velma Bell Hamilton poses outside. Beloit College Archives.

The importance of education stuck around the Hamilton family. Three of Mrs. Hamilton’s relatives went on to graduate from her stomping grounds of Beloit College: son Dr. Harry L. Hamilton ‘60, who also served as trustee to the college, daughter Patricia G. Hamilton ‘63, and granddaughter Lisa Hamilton Marino ‘93. According to the Beloit College Archives' files on her life, Patricia Hamilton was the first Black woman initiated into the Alpha Mu chapter of Delta Gamma at Beloit College. Upon her initiation, the national organization, Delta Gamma, began to continuously send charter violations to the Alpha Mu chapter. Beloit College de-activated the Alpha Mu chapter. This prompted a return to the sorority’s roots as Theta Pi Gamma, a unique local chapter, replaced the sorority. Mrs. Hamilton's son Harry, Jr. was among the first Black initiates in Tau Kappa Epsilon at Beloit College. 

Mr. Hamilton passed away in 1996 after 62 years of marriage with Mrs. Hamilton, who passed away in 2009.

Unless otherwise noted, this biography was written from information in Velma Bell Hamilton’s written obituary, contributed by Cheryl Johnson Caldwell. For more information on Velma Bell Hamilton and her work, visit Beloit College Archives.