The National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) was
founded on December 5, 1935,
with the support of the leaders of 28 of the most notable black women's organizations.
The founder and president until 1949, Mary McLeod Bethune, envisioned a unified
force of black women's groups fighting to improve racial conditions nationally
The NCNW focused on gathering information,
making credible contacts, and sponsoring education programs. The most notable
effort in the 1930s was the 1938 White House Conference on Governmental
Cooperation in the Approach to the Problems of Negro Women and Children. Beginning with this conference,
representatives of the NCNW began to regularly visit the White House to call
for more black female administrators in upper-level government positions.
In the 1940s the NCNW engaged in a series of
activities including the campaign to desegregate the armed forces and assisting
women globally during World War II. In 1941, the NCNW became a member of the
U.S. War Department's Bureau of Public Relations under the Women's Interest
Section where they lobbied for black women in the U.S. Army. By 1942, The
Women's Army Corps (WAC) accepted African American women, admitting them into
the service overseas in the 688th Central Postal Battalion. They
also launched education campaigns, urging black workers to improve their job
skills and to maintain professional attitudes and appearances. In its concern
for minority women around the world, the NCNW advocated U.S.
participation in the United Nations.
In 1949, Mary McLeod Bethune was succeeded by
Dorothy Boulding Ferebee who refocused the group's efforts toward using the
legal system to gain black rights and promote voter registration and
education. The NCNW also lobbied for
women's rights legislation, federal aid to education, establishment of a
national health-care system, and a permanent Fair Employment Practices
Commission (FEPC) to prevent racial discrimination in employment.
In 1953, Vivian Carter Mason was elected president.
Mason centralized the structure of the NCNW and was successful in making local
councils adhere to NCNW guidelines. During its restructuring, the NCNW
increasingly embraced interracial cooperation with white women and with other
women of color.
Four years later, in 1957, Dorothy Irene Height became
the fourth president, a position she holds until today. In the beginning of
Height's administration, the NCNW explored new methods to finance and otherwise
support the emerging Civil Rights movements. Height also personally became one of the major
architects of the movement's strategy. With
the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts in 1964 and 1965, the NCNW
shifted its focus to the economic problems affecting black women. After receiving tax-exempt nonprofit status in
1966, the NCNW began to train a number of black women for volunteer community
service, help low-income black women in job training, address the problems
surrounding black youth, and initiate efforts to help poverty-stricken southern
black farmers. By the 1990s the NCNW centered its efforts on youth violence,
teenage pregnancy, and drug abuse as well as care of the elderly.
Dorothy D. Height, Open
Wide the Freedom Gates: A Memoir (New York:
Public Affairs Press, 2003); Tracey A. Fitzgerald, The National Council of Negro Women and the Feminist Movement,
1935-1975 (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 1985); Nina
Mjagkij, Organizing Black America:
An Encyclopedia of African American Associations (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 2001); http://ncnw.org/.
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