Peggy Pinder Elliot

Attorney, City Councilwoman, Politician

Copyright © 1990, 2010
National Federation of the Blind

          Born in 1953 and raised in Grinnell, Iowa, Peggy Pinder attended regular schools until the middle of the ninth grade. When her eye condition was diagnosed as irreversible decline into total blindness, her father cried for the first and only time in her life--at least, as far as she knows.

          Pinder then spent what she characterizes as two and a half unhappy years at the Iowa school for the blind. Academically she learned nothing that she had not already been taught in public schools. The students were discouraged from learning to use the white cane and were never allowed off campus unless they were accompanied by a sighted person. But most soul-destroying of all, the students were discouraged from aspiring to success or from setting themselves challenging goals. Pinder resisted the stifling atmosphere and drew down upon herself the wrath of the school administration, which refused to permit her to complete high school there, forcing her to go back to public school.

          Knowing that she was not prepared to make this transition, she and her parents sought help from Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, then Director of the Iowa Commission for the Blind. Pinder enrolled at the Orientation and Adjustment Center, where she mastered the skills of blindness and explored for the first time the healthy and positive philosophy of blindness that has subsequently directed her life.

          Pinder went on to Iowa's Cornell College, where she achieved an excellent academic record and edited the "Cornellian", the school newspaper. She then completed law school at Yale University, receiving her J.D. Degree in 1979.

          After graduation from law school, Pinder passed the Iowa Bar in January, 1980. She then began a difficult job search. Although her academic standing at Yale was better than that of most of her classmates, she did not receive a single job offer as a result of the intensive interviewing she had done during her final year of law school. Virtually all Yale-trained attorneys leave the university with offers in hand. The inference was inescapable: employers were discriminating against Pinder because of her blindness. She eventually was hired as Assistant County Attorney for Woodbury County in Sioux City, Iowa, where she prosecuted defendants on behalf of the people.

          Pinder's lifetime interest in helping to improve the world around her has been expressed in politics as well as in Federation activity. In 1976 she was a delegate to the Republican National Convention in Kansas City. During the Convention she appeared on national television and in a national news magazine, taking the occasion to acquaint the public with the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind and the real needs of blind people. At the end of the convention, she was chosen to second the nomination of Senator Robert Dole to be the candidate of the Republican Party for the Vice Presidency of the United States.

          In 1986 she completed a campaign for the Iowa State Senate in District 27 (East-Central Iowa) on the Republican ticket. She won the Primary and campaigned hard in a district eighty by thirty miles in size and containing about 60,000 residents, a distinct minority of whom are Republican. From April through November she made hundreds of public appearances and managed an efficient campaign. Like many candidates, Pinder was not elected in her first bid for public office, but she made a very strong showing and is often asked when she will run again. Her interest in participating in her community continues today through her service on the Grinnell City Council and in other community organizations.

          Pinder's work in the National Federation of the Blind has been as impressive as her professional career. She held office in the N.F.B. Student Division in Iowa and Connecticut, and then served as President of the national Student Division from 1977 to 1979. In 1981 she was elected President of the National Federation of the Blind of Iowa, an office which she continues to hold. Pinder was first elected to serve on the N.F.B. Board of Directors in 1977, and in 1984 she was elected Second Vice President.

          For the past several years Pinder, a 1976 winner herself, has chaired the Scholarship Committee of the National Federation of the Blind. Every year approximately twenty-five scholarships, ranging in value from $1,800 to $10,000, are presented to the best blind college students in the nation.

Read the 2007 update to this article.

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