Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Marilyn Morheuser became interested in civil rights during her time as a college student in the mid-1940s. She graduated from the Loretto Order’s College in Webster Groves, Missouri in 1946 and subsequently entered into her order as a Catholic nun. Morheuser taught at various schools around the country before relocating to Milwaukee for a teaching position. During this time, she began writing for a Black-run weekly newspaper, The Milwaukee Star, and became active in the local civil rights movement emerging in the city. Soon after arriving in Milwaukee, Morheuser joined the Wisconsin State chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), where she met a young attorney by the name of Lloyd Barbee. In 1963, Morheuser decided to leave her fifteen-year order as a Catholic nun to begin working full-time on civil rights issues. The same year, Morheuser began assisting Barbee in his mission to end segregation in Milwaukee’s Public Schools.
Morheuser was a founding member of the Milwaukee United School Integration Committee (MUSIC), which served as a school integration umbrella organization. She helped to organize the three school boycotts which MUSIC sponsored in 1964, 1965, and 1966, as well as the Freedom Schools, which students attended during the boycotts. Eventually, the fight to end desegregation in Milwaukee Public Schools became a long and arduous court battle. Morheuser did much of the meticulous and tedious research needed to corroborate the segregation that was prevalent within the Milwaukee Public School system.
Several years later, Morheuser decided to enter into the law profession so that she could more effectively fight school desegregation through the courts. She eventually moved to Newark, New Jersey where she enrolled in the Rutgers-Newark School of Law and graduated with her J.D. in 1973. She became executive director of a Newark based public interest organization called the Education Law Center. Subsequently, she led a long, 13-year court battle, known as the Abbott v. Burke case, to make New Jersey’s school financing system more equitable for the state’s poorest districts. Morheuser received many awards for her work and steadfast dedication to seeking equality in education for disadvantaged children of color. She died in 1995 at the age of 71. EM