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Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
Marshall Cohen—researcher and producer, CNN

Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


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NORTH WESTERN UNION PACKET COMPANY. Captain W. F. Davidson, an experienced captain on the MISSISSIPPI RIVER entered into competition with other packet companies in the 1850s. In the early 1860s, his fleet was purchased by the NORTH WESTERN PACKET COMPANY. This particular steamboat company is best remembered for the civil rights case in which it was involved. In 1873, the court heard Coger v. The North Western Union Packet Co. (1)

The case centered on a woman who, because of her African descent, was forcibly removed from the dining car of the steamboat on which she was traveling. The woman had an unrestricted meal ticket. The Iowa Supreme Court held that the woman was entitled to the same rights and privileges as white passengers. (2)

The same conclusion was not reached by the U.S. Supreme Court until Heart of Atlanta Motel, Inc. v. United States (1964), a case that upheld the 1964 Civil Rights Act. (3)



1. "The Upper Mississippi Navigation," Dubuque Herald, May 3, 1866, p. 1

2. "Supreme Court of Iowa. Emma Coger v. North Western Union Packet Company," The American Law Register (1852-1891) Vol. 22, No. 3, New Series Volume 13 (Mar., 1874), pp. 162-174 Online: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3303647?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

3. Ibid.