Dorothy Height was born in Richmond, Virginia on March 24, 1912. Her long career of activism began when she was in high school where she participated in anti-lynching campaigns. She attended New York University, Columbia University, and the New York School of Social Work. In the 1930s and 40s she also advocated for the improvement of working conditions for Black domestic workers who were overwhelmingly women. She also oversaw the YWCA’s efforts at integration.
In 1957 she became president of the National Council of Negro Women. During her 40 year tenure, she organized voter registration, voter education programs, and developed scholarship programs for civil right workers. She helped organize the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his, “I Have A Dream Speech.” She not only navigated the complex logistics involved in such a massive march but she also mediated the many conflicts that arrose during the planning and implementation of the march. She was the only woman sitting on the platform behind the speakers.
Her activism continued even after the end of the Classical Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. She was one of the co-founders of the National Women’s Political Caucus in 1971. And she also served on the President’s Committee on the Employment of the Handicapped, and the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women. She also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1994) and the Congressional Gold Medal (2004).
This Black History month IJPC is celebrating women of the Civil Rights Movement. Black women are often written out of history despite being the backbone of many of our systems of care and igniting the spark that creates movements for change. Each week this month we will highlight the work of an important Black woman activist. You can take part in this series through our email, Instagram or Facebook and we encourage you to share something you learned with a family member or friend.