Women’s Organizations

What was the importance of Dorothy Height to the National Council of Negro Women?

The fourth president of the National Council of Negro Women, Dorothy Irene Height (1912–2010) held this position from 1957 to 1998, when she retired and was named chair and president emeritus. She continued to make appearances on behalf of the organization and kept NCNW at the forefront of black and women’s organizations. Height spent most of her life working as a leader in the struggle for equality and human rights for all people. In her early years, the Richmond, Virginia, native worked in government and social service associations. She rose through the ranks of the YWCA in Harlem and in Washington, D.C, and became a staff member of the National Board of the YWCA USA. There she developed leadership training programs for volunteers and staff. She became known for her internationalism and humanitarianism. Her leadership skills made her a natural choice as leader of NCNW when Mary McLeod Bethune retired. Through the organization, Height worked tirelessly to strengthen the black family and to develop model national programs. She led the organization in issue-oriented politics, promoted voter registration drives in the North and South, and strengthened communication between women of all races. Height was also a leader in the Civil Rights Movement and worked with Martin Luther King Jr., Roy Wilkins, Whitney Young, A. Philip Randolph, and others. She was active in practically all of the major civil and human rights activities of that time. She conceived and organized the Black Family Reunion Celebration, first held in 1986, to strengthen the traditional values of black families. For several years these successful celebrations were held in separate locations throughout the country. When Height died on April 20, 2010, President Barack Obama called her “the godmother of the civil rights movement.”


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