Vel Phillips '51 named Distinguished Alumna by Wisconsin Alumni Association

Vel Phillips
Vel Phillips

Vel Phillips '51 has received a 2013 Distinguished Alumni Award, the highest honor bestowed by the Wisconsin Alumni Association.

Phillips is associated with a long list of "firsts": first African-American woman to graduate from University of Wisconsin Law School, first woman and African-American elected to Milwaukee’s Common Council, first African-American judge in Wisconsin, and first woman and African-American to serve as Wisconsin’s secretary of state — making her the highest-ranking woman elected to state office in the 20th century.

Vel Phillips to be honored at civil rights seminar

“A Nation Still Under Construction: Observing the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act” will be on Wednesday, March 26, from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. in Union South’s Varsity Hall.

All of these firsts stemmed from Phillips' primary passion for community justice. She was a supporter and friend of Martin Luther King, Jr., and she became a national activist during the civil-rights movement. As alder, she introduced the first bill to outlaw housing discrimination in Milwaukee. Some of her many current activities include supporting America’s Black Holocaust Museum, holding a distinguished professor chair at the Marquette School of Law and producing a memoir of Milwaukee’s civil-rights struggle. She has also established the Vel Phillips Foundation, which provides scholarships and grants to social-justice organizations.

Since 1936, WAA has presented the Distinguished Alumni Awards to the most prestigious graduates of UW-Madison for their professional achievements, contributions to society and support of the university.

The three other Distinguished Alumni Award honorees are Iris Apfel ’43, Laurie Benson '75 and Michael Splinter ’72, MS ’74.

This article was adapted from an article originally appearing on the Wisconsin Alumni Association website. For more information, visit

Submitted by Law School News on April 24, 2014

This article appears in the categories: Alumni, Articles

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