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Height, Dorothy I. 1912–

Dorothy I. Height 1912

President of National Council of Negro Women

At a Glance

Named President of NCNW

Family Reunions Emphasize Self-Help

Sources

For nearly fifty years, Dorothy I. Height has been a prominent organizer and leader representing black women in the United States. Most notably, she has served since 1957 as president of the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW), the social services organization with more than four million members nationwide, comprising a number of civic, church, educational, labor, community, and professional groups. Guided by the principles of the groups founder Mary McLeod Bethune, Height has maintained the NCNW as a leader in serving the needs and interests of black women and their families, emphasizing the cooperation of different segments of the black community in solving problems. Prior to her NCNW presidency, Height also served distinguished terms as a leader with the Young Womens Christian Association (YWCA) and the national black womens sorority, Delta Sigma Theta. Her commitment to womens organizations was influenced by a 1937 meeting with Bethune who impressed upon a socially-minded Height, as she recalled in Ebony, not only to be concerned but to use whatever talent I had to be of some service in the community.

Height was born in 1912 in Richmond, Virginia, and shortly thereafter moved with her family to Rankin, Pennsylvania, where she was raised and attended school. Heights family was Baptist, and both her mother and father, who were involved in a number of church activities and organizations, were early role models for her future work in social services. An excellent student, basketball player, and public speaker during high school, Height received a thousand dollar college scholarship for winning a national oratory competition. Her outstanding academic record later gained her acceptance at New York University, where she had applied after Barnard College delayed her admission because of a racial quota. Graduating with a bachelors degree in psychology three years later, Height then obtained her masters degree in the same field. Since she had originally planned to follow a career in social work, Height took a position with the New York City welfare department for two years, supplementing her service with studies at the New York School of Social Work.

Height became active in black womens groups in 1937 after meeting NCNW founder Bethune and becoming inspired by her vision of organizing black women with a

At a Glance

Born Dorothy Irene Height, March 24, 1912, in Richmond, VA; daughter of James Edward (a building contractor) and Fannie (a private nurse; maiden name, Burroughs) Height. Education: Received B.A. and M.A. from New York University; postgraduate studies at New York School of Social Work.

Young Womens Christian Association (YWCA) Phillis Wheatley Home, Philadelphia, PA, executive director, 1939; YWCA School for Professional Workers, Mt. Carroll, IL, director, 1939; staff member of YWCA national board, New York City, beginning in 1944, director of YWCA Center for Racial Justice, beginning in 1946; Delta Sigma Theta (sorority), vice-president, 1944-47, president, 1947-56; National Council of Negro Women (NCNW), Washington, DC, president, 1957.

Served on U.S. Department of Defense Advisory Committee on Women, 1952-55; New York State Welfare Board, 1958-68; Presidents Committee for the Employment of the Handicapped; Office of Emergency plannings Presidential Committee on the Status of Women; and Presidents Committee for Equal Employment Opportunity. Consultant on African affairs to the U.S. Secretary of State; visiting professor, School of Social Work, Delhi, India, 1952. Member of board of governors of American Red Cross, 1964-70; member of board of directors, CARE.

Awards: Distinguished service award, National Conference on Social Welfare, 1971; inducted into International Womens Forum Hall of Fame, 1991; honorary degrees from Tuskegee University, Coppin State College, Harvard University, and Pace College.

Addresses: OfficeNational Council of Negro Women, 1211 Connecticut Ave., Washington, DC, 20036-2701.

goal of improving standards in education, health, and wages. Faced with grim realities of absence of power and exclusion from opportunity, Height stated in Ebony, [Bethune] understood the need for the collective power of Black women on behalf of themselves and their families. In 1938 Height became a member of the YWCA in New York City and devoted her energies to improving the quality of life for black women. She worked as an assistant director of the YWCAs Emma Ransom House, a Harlem lodging facility for black women, and later served as executive director of the YWCA Phillis Wheatley Home in Washington, D.C. One of Heights early causes was the abolishment of substandard wages for female black domestic workers, who negotiated daily for work on the streets of Brooklyn and the Bronx, New York. Height testified on the workers behalf before the New York City Council and became involved in efforts to organize labor unions to ensure fair wages.

Heights activities resulted in her rise to the national planning levels of the YWCA as well as the national black womens sorority, Delta Sigma Theta. During the 1940s she worked at the YWCAs national headquarters in New York City and was involved in coordinating the organizations 1946 convention, which chartered a policy of integrating YWCA facilities nationwide. At the convention, Height was elected the organizations national interracial education secretary. In addition, Heights work with Delta Sigma Theta during the 1940s resulted in her appointment as its national president in 1947. In the ten years she served as the sororitys leader, Height was especially involved in organizing efforts to increase employment opportunities for black women and obtaining their representation on labor policy-making boards and commissions. She helped charter the Deltas first international chapters and worked towards increasing the consciousness of black women from the United States and Third World countries, unifying them in their common objectives.

Named President of NCNW

In 1957, Height became the fourth president of the NCNW, the organization whose principles had guided her work within the black womens movement. Through the civil rights movement of the 1960s, Height and the NCNW were involved in such activities as voter registration in the South, voter education programs in the North, and the implementation of financial aid opportunities for students working within the movement. While Height and the NCNW were known to be politically moderate, calling for measured steps toward integration and civil rights, by the 1970s their stance had evolved to become more urgent; they advocated direct response by the white majority in addressing problems affecting blacks. During the 1970s, the NCNW received various grants to support such projects as Operation Woman Power, which assisted women in opening their own businesses and provided vocational training. The NCNW also obtained federal money to set up a job training program for teenagers and became active in establishing food cooperatives in rural areas. Under Heights leadership in the 1970s, the NCNW grew to include a national planning and administrative staff of more than ninety members.

During the 1980s and 1990s, Heights foremost call has been to emphasize the black communitys tradition of self-help. The activist promotes the notion of an extended familyone encompassing all levels of class and societyin countering such perils as drugs, family disintegration, poverty, and economic disparity. In a 1989 article for the Nation, Height explained that self-help is an idea that runs contrary to a pervasive conception of black society as overdependent and predominantly welfare-oriented. She noted, however, that such an outlook disregards the fact that the major energies of black people in America historically have had to be directed to attaining the most elementary human freedoms (such as owning ones own body and the fruits thereof) that our white sisters and brothers take for granted. While the civil rights movement of the 1960s dramatically demonstrated the collective efforts of blacks to end racial discrimination in the United States, Height continued in Nation, in the past blacks have united to provide services for one another in every conceivable way: feeding and clothing the destitute; tending the sick; caring for orphaned children and the aged; establishing insurance companies, burial societies, travelers accommodations when hotels were segregatedthe list goes on.

Family Reunions Emphasize Self-Help

To emphasize resources available within black communities, Height and the NCNW became sponsors in the 1980s of a series of Black Family Reunion Celebrations. Held in a number of major U.S. cities, the celebrations brought together blacks from various socioeconomic levels in order to promote unity and foster awareness of community resources. Each reunion, in addition to providing live entertainment for both adults and children, offered such services as free blood pressure tests as well as informative sessions on family planning, health care, and youth employment services. At a gathering in Los Angeles, which drew upwards of 60,000 people, Height reiterated her message of black solidarity: The concept of self-help for the black family is contrary to public opinion, Newsweek quoted her as saying. The image of dependency is always put forth, but the reality is that we have helped ourselves and we have provided for ourselves many services our white brothers and sisters take for granted. So much has been drilled into us about what is wrong with our community. Were looking at what we have to work with.

Another NCNW crusade is the recruitment of young people to become active participants in addressing such problems as drugs, lack of education, and unemployment. Height emphasized that in the 1990s, more than ever, teenagers need to make a special effort. With drugs and television and things of that sort, young people really have to work against being spectators rather than involved participants, she remarked in Ebony. Under Heights leadership, the NCNW has been geared toward helping young people to understand the importance of using the organizational goals to advance life in the community, and to impress upon them that there is no way of doing that without advancing themselves and that they are bound to grow as they try to tackle real problems.

Throughout her years as president of the NCNW, Height has steadily maintained the groups traditional course of organizing black women from all levels of society with the hope of attaining a common goalimproving education, health, and economic status. Among other accomplishments in her long career, Height has served as a social services expert on a number of governmental committees and commissions at the federal, state, and local levels. Her work in this area includes positions on the U.S. Department of Defenses advisory committee on women in the armed services and membership on the State of New Yorks Social Welfare Board. Height has received several awards throughout her career, including a 1991 inductionalong with newspaper publisher Katharine Graham, feminist leader Betty Friedan, and Norwegian prime minister Gro Harlem Brundtlandinto the International Womens Forum Hall of Fame.

Sources

Periodicals

Ebony, August 1982; August 1985; August 1988; July 1989; August 1990; October 1990; November 1990.

Nation, July 24-31, 1989.

Newsweek, August 17, 1987.

New York Times, October 25, 1991.

Michael E. Mueller

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"Height, Dorothy I. 1912–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Height, Dorothy I. 1912–

Dorothy I. Height 1912

Former organization president

At a Glance

Named President of NCNW

Family Reunions Emphasize Self-Help

Sources

Dorothy I. Height has been a prominent organizer and leader representing African American women in the United States. From 1957 until 1997, she served as president of the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW), a social services organization with millions of members nationwide, comprising a number of civic, church, educational, labor, community, and professional groups. Guided by the principles of the groups founder Mary McLeod Bethune, Height was a NCNW leader who championed the needs and interests of African American women and their families, and emphasized the cooperation of different segments of the African American community in solving problems. Prior to her NCNW presidency, Height also served distinguished terms as a leader with the Young Womens Christian Association (YWCA) and the national black womens sorority, Delta Sigma Theta. Her commitment to womens organizations was influenced by a 1937 meeting with Bethune who impressed upon a socially-minded Height, as she recalled in Ebony, not only to be concerned but to use whatever talent I had to be of some service in the community.

Height was born in 1912 in Richmond, Virginia, and shortly thereafter moved with her family to Rankin, Pennsylvania, where she was raised and attended school. Heights family was Baptist, and both her mother and father, who were involved in a number of church activities and organizations, were early role models for her future work in social services. An excellent student, basketball player, and public speaker during high school, Height received a one-thousand dollar college scholarship for winning a national oratory competition. Her outstanding academic record later gained her acceptance at New York University, where she had applied after Barnard College delayed her admission because of a racial quota. Graduating with a bachelors degree in psychology three years later, Height then obtained her masters degree in the same field. Since she had originally planned to follow a career in social work, Height took a position with the New York City welfare department for two years, supplementing her service with studies at the New York School of Social Work.

Height became active in African American womens groups in 1937 after meeting NCNW founder Bethune and becoming inspired by her vision of organizing

At a Glance

Born Dorothy Irene Height, March 24, 1912, in Richmond, VA; daughter of James Edward (a building contractor) and Fannie (a private nurse; maiden name, Burroughs) Height Education: Received B.A. and M.A., from New York University; postgraduate studies at New York School of Social Work.

Career: Young Womens Christian Association (YWCA) Phillis Wheatley Home, Philadelphia, PA, executive director, 1939; YWCA School for Professional Workers, Mt Carroll, IL, director, 1939; staff member of YWCA national board, New York City, beginning in 1944, director of YWCA Center for Racial Justice, beginning in 1946; Delta Sigma Theta (sorority), vice-president, 1944-47, president, 1947-56; National Council of Negro Women (NCNW), Washington, DC, president, 1957-97, president emerita, 1998-.

Member; Served on U.S. Department of Defense Advisory Committee on Women, 1952-55; New York State Welfare Board, 1958-68; Consultant on African affairs to the U.S. Secretary of State; visiting professor, School of Social Work, Delhi, India, 1952, Member of board of governors of American Red Cross, 1964-70; member of board of directors, CARE.

Selected awards; William L. Dawson Award, 1974; Citizens Medal Award, 1989; Carnille Cosby World of Children Award, 1990; Inducted into International Womens Forum Hal I of Fame, 1991; Presidential Medal of Freedom, 1994.

Addresses: Office National Council of Negro Women, 1211 Connecticut Ave., Washington, DC, 20036-2701.

African American women with a goal of improving standards in education, health, and wages. Faced with grim realities of absence of power and exclusion from opportunity, Height stated in Ebony, [Bethune] understood the need for the collective power of Black women on behalf of themselves and their families. In 1938, Height became a member of the YWCA in New York City and devoted her energies to improving the quality of life for African American women. She worked as an assistant director of the YWCAs Emma Ransom House, a Harlem lodging facility for African American women, and later served as executive director of the YWCA Phillis Wheatley Home in Washington, D.C. One of Heights early causes was the abolishment of substandard wages for female African American domestic workers, who negotiated daily for work on the streets of Brooklyn and the Bronx, New York. Height testified on the workers behalf before the New York City Council and became involved in efforts to organize labor unions to ensure fair wages.

Heights activities resulted in her rise to the national planning levels of the YWCA as well as the national African American womens sorority, Delta Sigma Theta. During the 1940s she worked at the YWCAs national headquarters in New York City and was involved in coordinating the organizations 1946 convention, which chartered a policy of integrating YWCA facilities nationwide. At the convention, Height was elected the organizations national interracial education secretary. In addition, Heights work with Delta Sigma Theta during the 1940s resulted in her appointment as its national president in 1947. In the ten years she served as the sororitys leader, Height was especially involved in organizing efforts to increase employment opportunities for African American women and obtaining their representation on labor policy-making boards and com-missions. She helped charter the Deltas first international chapters and worked towards increasing the consciousness of women of color from the United States and Third World countries, unifying them in their common objectives.

Named President of NCNW

In 1957, Height became the fourth president of the NCNW, the organization whose principles had guided her work within the African American womens movement. During the civil rights movement of the 1960s, Height and the NCNW were involved in such activities as voter registration in the South, voter education programs in the North, and the implementation of financial aid opportunities for students working within the movement. While Height and the NCNW were known to be politically moderate, calling for measured steps toward integration and civil rights, their stance became more strident during the 1970s. They advocated a direct response by the white majority in addressing problems affecting African Americans. During the 1970s, the NCNW received various grants to support such projects as Operation Woman Power, which assisted women in opening their own businesses and provided vocational training. The NCNW also obtained federal money to set up a job training program for teenagers and became active in establishing food cooperatives in rural areas. Under Heights leadership in the 1970s, the NCNW grew to include a national planning and administrative staff of more than ninety members.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Height was a prominent activist for civil rights and the rights of women. In 1965, she founded the YWCAs Center for Racial Justice and served as its director until she retired from the national YWCA in 1977. In 1966, Height participated in the White House Conference To Fulfill These Rights. Along with other activists, she founded the National Womens Political Caucus (NWPC) in 1972. Two years later, Height served as a delegate to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Conference on Woman and Her Rights held in Kingston, Jamaica. Height also secured a grant from the United States Agency for International Development to hold a conference or women from the United States, South America, Africa, and the Caribbean. The purpose of the conference was to promote greater solidarity between women throughout the world and seek solutions to common problems.

During the 1980s and 1990s, Height championed the African American communitys tradition of self-help. and promoted the notion of an extended familyone encompassing all levels of class and societyin countering such perils as drugs, family disintegration, poverty, and economic disparity. In a 1989 article for the Nation, Height explained that self-help is an idea that runs contrary to a pervasive conception of African American society as overdependent and predominantly welfare-oriented. She noted, however, that such an outlook disregarded the fact that the major energies of black people in America historically have had to be directed to attaining the most elementary human freedoms (such as owning ones own body and the fruits thereof) that our white sisters and brothers take for granted. While the civil rights movement of the 1960s dramatically demonstrated the collective efforts of African Americans to end racial discrimination in the United States, Height continued in Nation, in the past African Americans have united to provide services for one another in every conceivable way: feeding and clothing the destitute; tending the sick; caring for orphaned children and the aged; establishing insurance companies, burial societies, travelers accommodations when hotels were segregatedthe list goes on.

Family Reunions Emphasize Self-Help

To emphasize resources available within African American communities, Height and the NCNW sponsored a series of Black Family Reunion Celebrations during the 1980s. Held in a number of major U.S. cities, the celebrations brought together African Americans from various socioeconomic levels in order to promote unity and foster awareness of community resources. Each reunion, in addition to providing live entertainment for both adults and children, offered such services as free blood pressure tests as well as informative sessions on family planning, health care, and youth employment services. At a gathering in Los Angeles, which drew upwards of 60,000 people, Height reiterated her message of African American solidarity: The concept of self-help for the black family is contrary to public opinion, Newsweek quoted her as saying. The image of dependency is always put forth, but the reality is that we have helped ourselves and we have provided for ourselves many services our white brothers and sisters take for granted. So much has been drilled into us about what is wrong with our community. Were looking at what we have to work with.

During the 1990s, the NCNW recruited young people to become active participants in addressing such problems as drugs, lack of education, and unemployment within their communities. Height emphasized in Ebony that teenagers needed to make a greater effort to become involved in the problems and challenges they face. With drugs and television and things of that sort, young people really have to work against being spectators rather than involved participants.

During her tenure as president of the NCNW, Height steadily maintained the groups traditional course of organizing African American women from all levels of society with the hope of attaining a common goal-improving education, health, and economic status. Among other accomplishments in her long career, Height served as a social services expert on a number of governmental committees and commissions at the federal, state, and local level. Her work in this area included positions on the U.S. Department of Defenses advisory committee on women in the armed services and membership on the State of New Yorks Social Welfare Board from 1958 to 1968. Height also served on the board of directors for CARE, and was a member of the ARC board of governors from 1964 until 1970.

Height has received several awards throughout her career. In 1965, the National Council of Jewish Women presented Height with the John F. Kennedy Memorial Award. For her tireless efforts in promoting the rights of women and people of color, Height was presented with the William L. Dawson Award by the Congressional Black Caucus in 1974. That same year, she was named Woman of the Year by the Ladies Home Journal for her advocacy of human rights. In 1989, President Ronald Reagan presented Height with the Citizens Medal Award for distinguished service. In 1990, she was also the recipient of the Camille Cosby World of Children Award and the Olender Foundations Generous Heart Award. Along with newspaper publisher Katharine Graham, feminist leader Betty Friedan, and Norwegian prime minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, Height was inducted into the International Womens Forum Hall of Fame in 1991. She was awarded the nations highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, in 1994. In 1998, Height was honored with a celebration entitled Uncommon Height, the Legends Celebrate the Legend. Distinguished guests included Hillary Rodham Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, Rosa Parks, James Farmer, Marian Wright Edelman, and Camille Cosby. Notable poet, Maya Angelou, also read a poem that she had written in honor of Height entitled Phenomenal Woman.

In February of 1998, Height was named president emerita of the NCNW. She remained committed to championing the rights of women and people of color, and promoting a greater sense of unity among all peoples. As Heights grandniece, Dana Rudolph, remarked to People Weekly in 1998, Her work is her life. She never sleeps.

Sources

Books

Hine, Darlene Clark, ed. Black Woman in America: An Historical Encyclopedia. Carlson Publishing Inc., 1993.

Luker, Ralph E. Historical Dictionary of the Civil Rights Movement. The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1997.

Periodicals

Ebony, August 1982; August 1985; August 1988; July 1989; August 1990; October 1990; November 1990.

Jet, October 19, 1998.

Nation, July 24-31, 1989.

Newsweek, August 17, 1987.

New York Times, October 25, 1991.

People Weekly, October 19, 1998.

Michael E. Mueller and David G. Oblender

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Height, Dorothy I. 1912–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Height, Dorothy I. 1912–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 20, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/height-dorothy-i-1912-0

"Height, Dorothy I. 1912–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved August 20, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/height-dorothy-i-1912-0