Bettye Tate used to think she got quite a deal. She bought that 12-bedroom house on South Dubuque Street with a $10 downpayment in 1939. In all, it cost $3,300 for the house that became a home to Tate, her husband, Junious, and hundreds of male African-American students during a period when the University of Iowa didn’t allow blacks to live on campus.
Tate housed, fed, advised the young men and called them her “boys” in what was called the Tate Arms boarding house.
“There were all these boys coming to town needing a place to stay,” Tate said in a profile story before her death in 1999. “When they were accepted into college, the university would send them a list of places where they were allowed to live. I was on the list.”
She made the young men abide by her house rules. They were required to make their own beds, change their linens once a week and pick up after themselves. They weren’t allowed to drink or bring girls into the house, and when Bettye raised her voice, they knew to be quiet.
Bettye cooked. The boys did the dishes.
Bettye was born in Fairfield and moved to Iowa City in 1926. She was employed at the University of Iowa Hospitals in the cardiovascular lab where she worked as a lab technician and supervisor before retiring in 1976. She was an actress at the Iowa City Community Theatre and she volunteered at the UIHC patients’ library and the Old Capitol Building until she was 88. She now is the namesake of Elizabeth Tate High School in Iowa City.
— Andy Hamilton