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National Federation of Afro-American Women

National Federation of Afro-American Women


Established in 1895 in Boston, the National Federation of Afro-American Women (NFAAW) was one of the first organizations created to represent African-American women on a national scale. Founded during the First National Conference of Colored Women of America, its mandate was to improve the image of black women by uplifting the race through middle-class domestic values. During its one year of existence, the federation included 104 delegates representing fifty-four women's clubs from fourteen states.

Several events crystallized the need for black women's groups to join together as a national entity in the early 1890s. The Women's Pavilion at the Columbian Exposition (1893) denied the participation of black women's organizations. The incident galvanized black women's groups in Washington D.C., New York, Boston, and Chicago and showed them they could no longer afford to limit their activism to the local arena.

The final catalyst toward unification was a letter written by James Jacks, president of the Missouri Press Association, to Florence Balgarnie, secretary of England's Anti-Lynching Society, in which Jacks attacked black women, claiming they were immoral, sexually promiscuous, and likely to be liars and thieves. Balgarnie sent the letter to Joseph Ruffin, founder of Boston's Women's Era Club, and Ruffin had it published in their journal, Women's Era. Women from all over the country met at the First National Conference of Colored Women of America in Boston (1895) to discuss the letter and other issues facing women, such as education, employment, and child rearing. While they stressed that white women could join their organization, they were less eager to admit lower-class blacks and centered their agenda around middle-class concerns.

At the close of the conference, the women voted to create a new, permanent national organization called the National Federation of Afro-American Women, which would try to change the image of the black woman, raise the moral standard of the lower class, and cultivate black middle-class women's domestic skills.

The National Federation of Afro-American Women coexisted with another organization, the National League of Colored Women, but both groups became convinced that to be effective they needed to come together in one organization. In 1896 the National Association of Colored Women was organized in an attempt to overcome the factionalism that had limited black women's political effectiveness throughout the 1890s. The merger spelled the dissolution of the National Federation of Afro-American Women after one year of existence.

See also Black Women's Club Movement

Bibliography

Harley, Sharon, and Rosalyn Terborg-Penn, eds. The Afro-American Woman: Struggles and Images. Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press, 1978.

Salem, Dorothy. "Foundations for Organized Reform." In To Better Our World: Black Women in Organized Reform, 18901920, vol. 14 of Black Women in U.S. History, edited by Darlene Clark Hine. New York: Carlson, 1990.

marian aguiar (1996)

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