Haynes, Elizabeth Ross (1883–1953)

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Haynes, Elizabeth Ross (1883–1953)

African-American social worker, sociologist, author. Born Elizabeth Ross on July 30, 1883, in Lowndes County, Alabama; died on October 26, 1953, in New York City; daughter of Henry and Mary (Carnes) Ross; Fisk University, A.B., 1903; Columbia University, A.M. in sociology, 1923; married George Edmund Haynes, on December 14, 1910; children: one son, George Edmund Haynes, Jr. (b. July 17, 1912).

Elizabeth Ross Haynes was born on July 30, 1883, in Mount Willing, Lowndes County, Alabama, of former slaves Henry and Mary Carnes Ross . Her father had served in the Union Army during the Civil War and had used his pay to purchase land in Alabama. Through hard work, he eventually converted his property into a 1,500-acre plantation. Elizabeth was an intelligent child, and her parents made sure she received the best possible education. She was class valedictorian at State Normal School in Montgomery and won a scholarship to Fisk University, where she earned an A.B. in 1903. Between 1905 and 1907, she spent her summers attending graduate school at the University of Chicago.

Elizabeth Ross' long-standing association with the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) began when she became the organization's first black national secretary in 1908. In this role, she worked largely among African-American college students and traveled extensively to provide a detailed account of student life. Although Ross resigned from this position in order to marry George Edmund Haynes in 1910, her work with the YWCA was far from over. She continued to volunteer after the marriage and the birth of her only child, George Jr., in 1912.

George Haynes was a sociologist and later a founder of the National Urban League. Like Elizabeth, he yearned to make a difference for African-American workers and, to this end, accepted the position of director of Negro economics in the Department of Labor in 1912. Elizabeth followed her husband to the Department of Labor, volunteering in what would later be known as the Women's Bureau, and serving in the U.S. Employment Service as a domestic service secretary. The experiences she gleaned from volunteering gave her keen insight into the plight of black female workers who were almost invariably relegated to the worst jobs because of their race and gender. In 1922, she published a watershed study on black women and employment entitled "Two Million Negro Women at Work," which was her master's thesis at Columbia University. In it, she reported on the deplorable working conditions and poor quality of life African-American female laborers endured.

Not content to just report on the problems of black women in labor, Haynes fought to alleviate them. Along with several prominent African-American women, including Mary Church Terrell and Elizabeth Carter , she petitioned the International Congress of Working Women to offer programs of relevance to black women in 1919. One of their hopes was realized when the Council for Interracial Cooperation (CIC) organized in Atlanta in 1920. In 1924, Haynes became the first black woman elected to the national board of the YWCA. The organization was still highly segregated, and she had to fight for leadership opportunities. She remained in this post until 1934 when George moved the family to Harlem.

Elizabeth again worked side-by-side with her husband when he became secretary of the Commission on Race Relations for the Federated Council of the Churches of Christ in America. She was active in interracial work for the council. In November of 1935, she was elected as coleader of New York's 21st Assembly District. In this role, she energetically tackled numerous concerns, including unemployment, assistance to the elderly, soldiers' and widows' pensions, delinquency and legislation. By 1936, she was a member of the Colored Division of the National Democratic Speakers Bureau.

In 1937, Governor Herbert H. Lehman appointed Haynes to the New York State Temporary Commission on the Condition of the Urban Colored Population, the only woman to receive such an appointment. She worked diligently to upgrade schools and library services in Harlem and focused attention on integrating nursing and social work staffs in city hospitals. She was active on Mayor Fiorello La Guardia's City Planning Commission as well as the National Advisory Committee on Women's Participation in the 1939 New York World's Fair, and the Harlem Better Schools Committee. During and after World War II, Haynes actively supported the Emergency Committee to Save the Jewish People of Europe.

Elizabeth Ross Haynes' deep and abiding belief in the importance of black history led her to write Unsung Heroes (1921) which recounts the lives and achievements of various African-Americans. In 1952, she published The Black Boy of Atlanta (1952), a biography of R.R. Wright. She died in New York Medical Center in New York City on October 26, 1953.


Sicherman, Barbara, and Carol Hurd Green, eds. Notable American Women: The Modern Period. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1980.

Smith, Jessie Carney, ed. Notable Black American Women. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1992.

Judith C. Reveal , freelance writer, Greensboro, Maryland

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Haynes, Elizabeth Ross (1883–1953)

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