Grace Rohrer

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Grace Jemison Rohrer-Huff
North Carolina
Secretary of Cultural Resources
In office
January 5, 1973 – January 10, 1977
Governor James Holshouser
Preceded by Sam Ragan
Succeeded by Sara W. Hodgkins
North Carolina Secretary of Administration
In office
Governor James G. Martin
Preceded by Jane S. Patterson
Succeeded by James S. Lofton
Personal details
Born Grace Jemison
(1924-06-14)June 14, 1924
Chicago, Illinois
Died October 12, 2011(2011-10-12) (aged 87)
Boone, North Carolina
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Robert H. Rohrer (d. 1964)
Don Huff

Grace Rohrer (full name: Grace Jemison Rohrer-Huff; June 14, 1924 – October 12, 2011), was an American educator, arts and women's rights activist, and politician who served as the first woman to hold a state cabinet-level position in North Carolina when she was appointed Secretary of Cultural Resources by Governor James Holshouser from 1973–77. A Republican, she also served as Secretary of Administration under James G. Martin, 1985–87.

Early life and education[edit]

Rohrer was born Grace Jemison on June 14, 1924, in Chicago, Illinois. Her parents were Howard A. Jemison and the former Caroline Elmore Bishop. Rohrer attended high school in Cranford, New Jersey, then graduated from Western Maryland College with a B.A. degree in 1946. She would return to school later in life after her first husband died and receive her M.A. from Wake Forest University in 1969.[1]

Early career[edit]

Rohrer became an elementary school teacher after graduating from Western Maryland College. She excelled in arts promotion in Forsyth County, North Carolina, being a member of the Winston-Salem Symphony Guild. She also served as a singer and choir member for St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Winston-Salem as well as the Singers' Guild in Winston-Salem.[2]

Political career[edit]

Rohrer became active in civic affairs while in Winston-Salem and in the 1960s started working with local Republican party committees. Rohrer ran for a seat on the Forsyth County School Board as a Republican, but lost. She moved up in party hierarchy over time, even getting her father involved: Howard Jemison served several terms in the North Carolina House of Representatives for Forsyth County.[2]

In the early 1970s, there was a growing split in the North Carolina Republican Party between supporters of James Holshouser and James Gardner for governor in 1972. Rohrer, a Holshouser supporter, was beat out for the chairmanship of the party by Gardner supporter Frank Rouse.[3] Rohrer then became vice chairman of the party and during 1972 was interim chair when Rouse decided to temporarily step aside to campaign for Gardner.[4] She was instrumental in helping resolve the rift between the two party factions.[2] Her first try for state-wide office also came in 1972. That year, Rohrer ran for North Carolina Secretary of State. She would wind up losing to long-time Democratic incumbent Thad A. Eure in the general election, 55.92%–44.08%.[2][5]

Actively encouraging more women to participate in politics, she became one of three candidates short-listed for the Nixon administration's choice for Treasurer of the United States in 1974.[6] Francine Irving Neff was chosen for that position.[7]

Secretary of Cultural Resources[edit]

After she lost the race for Secretary of State, newly elected governor Jim Holshouser decided to choose Rohrer to be head of the Department of Art, Culture and History.[2] He also set about a program of government reorganization and renamed the department to be the Department of Cultural Resources. She served in the position from January 5, 1973 to January 10, 1977.[8] Upon her appointment to the position, Rohrer became the first woman to hold a cabinet-level position in North Carolina.[2][9] During her time in office, she created the Grassroots Arts Program, which helps bring arts programs to all 100 counties of North Carolina. This program still exists and is managed by the North Carolina Arts Council.[10]

After leaving office, she became active in several community projects and was hired as an executive at Duke University. In between her serving as DCR Secretary and the North Carolina Secretary of Administration, she also served as an instructor at Salem College and as an executive with the American Musical Theater Center in Durham, North Carolina.[9]

Secretary of Administration[edit]

When a Republican next won the governorship of North Carolina, it was James G. Martin who appointed Rohrer as his Secretary of Administration (another state cabinet-level post). She had just previously been a director at the University of North Carolina Center for Public Television.[11] After leaving office, she took a position with Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, in 1988, serving there until 1994.[1][9]

Women's rights[edit]

Rohrer had been a lifelong proponent of both the arts and women's rights. She was very vocal in her support for North Carolina's passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, testifying before state legislative committees in support of the amendment.[12] North Carolina did not, however, ratify the amendment.[13] She was active in creating the Women's Forum of North Carolina in 1976 and, the next year, she led North Carolina's delegation to the National Women's Conference held in Houston.[9]

Personal life[edit]

Rohrer was married to Robert H. Rohrer who was a business executive and had three sons with him. He died in 1964, leaving Grace Rohrer to raise the three children alone. She later married Don Huff and moved to Kennebunk, Maine with him until he died.[9] She died on October 12, 2011, at her home in Boone.[14]


In 1989, Rohrer received a Distinguished Women of North Carolina Award from the North Carolina Department of Administration and the North Carolina Council on the Status of Women. Governor Jim Martin presented the award.[15]


  1. ^ a b "Grace Jemison Rohrer-Huff". Winston-Salem Journal. October 18, 2011. Retrieved January 13, 2013. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f "First Woman to Hold State Cabinet Post to Run Office Non-Politically". The Lexington Dispatch. January 26, 1973. Retrieved December 13, 2012. 
  3. ^ Olson, Guy (June 19, 1972). "Holshouser Discounts Problems With Rouse". The Lexington Dispatch. UPI. Retrieved January 13, 2013. 
  4. ^ "Interim N.C. Republican Chairman Sets Position Of 'Strict Neutrality'". The Spartanburg Herald. AP. May 19, 1972. Retrieved January 10, 2013. 
  5. ^ "NC Secretary of State 1972". Retrieved January 11, 2013. 
  6. ^ "Lure of government pulls Rohrer back in to politics". The Hendersonville Times-News. AP. January 21, 1985. Retrieved January 13, 2013. 
  7. ^ "Treasurers of the United States". US Department of the Treasury. Retrieved January 13, 2013. 
  8. ^ North Carolina Manual 2009–2010. Raleigh, North Carolina: North Carolina Secretary of State. 2011. pp. 227–231. 
  9. ^ a b c d e Christensen, Rob (October 19, 2011). "Rohrer, first woman in state Cabinet, dies". Raleigh News and Observer. Retrieved January 10, 2013. 
  10. ^ "Remembering Grace J. Rohrer-Huff, Former Cultural Resources Leader". North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources. Retrieved January 10, 2013. 
  11. ^ "Grace Rohrer Says Discrimination Remains". The Lexington Dispatch. AP. January 31, 1985. Retrieved January 13, 2013. 
  12. ^ Smith, Dollie L (March 5, 1975). "Proponents air case for ERA". The Lexington Dispatch. Retrieved January 13, 2013. 
  13. ^ Napikoski, Linda. "Which States Have Not Ratified the Equal Rights Amendment?". Retrieved January 13, 2013. 
  14. ^ "Grace J. Rohrer-Huff". Austin and Barnes Funeral Home. October 12, 2011. Retrieved January 13, 2013. 
  15. ^ Vance, Merton (March 31, 1989). "Distinguished Women award goes to 2 from area". The Wilmington Morning Star. p. 2C. Retrieved February 11, 2013. 

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