Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Born Today in Women's History

Dorothy I. Height
" Godmother of the Women's movement"

Height was born in Richmond, Virginia on March 24, 1912. While in high school, Height was awarded a scholarship to Barnard College; however, upon arrival, she was denied entrance. At the time, Barnard admitted only two African Americans per academic year and Height had arrived after the other two had been admitted. After this disappointment, she subsequently pursued studies at New York University. After college, Dorothy Height worked as a teacher in the Brownsville Community Center, Brooklyn, New York. She was active in the United Christian Youth Movement after its founding in 1935. In 1938, Dorothy Height was one of ten young people selected to help Eleanor Roosevelt plan a World Youth Conference. Through Eleanor Roosevelt, she met Mary McLeod Bethune and became involved in the National Council of Negro Women.

Also in 1938, Dorothy Height was hired by the YWCA. She worked for better working conditions for black domestic workers, leading to her election to YWCA national leadership. In her professional service with the YWCA, she was assistant director of the Emma Ransom House in Harlem, and later executive director of the Phillis Wheatley House in Washington, DC. She was also able to influence the YWCA to be involved in civil rights beginning in the 1960s, and worked within the YWCA to desegregate all levels of the organization.

Dorothy Height became national president of Delta Sigma Theta in 1947, after serving for three years as vice president. In 1957, Dorothy Height's term as president of Delta Sigma Theta expired, and she was selected as the president of the National Congress of Negro Women. Always as a volunteer, she led NCNW through the civil rights years and into self-help assistance programs in the 1970s and 1980s. She built up the organization's credibility and fund-raising capacity such that it was able to attract large grants and therefore undertake major projects. She also helped establish a national headquarters building for NCNW.

Height was one of the few women to participate at the highest levels of the civil rights movement, with such others as A. Philip Randolph, Martin Luther King, jr., and Whitney Young. At the 1963 March on Washington, she was on the platform when Dr. King delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech.

Dorothy Height traveled extensively in her various positions, including to India, where she taught for several months, to Haiti, to England. She served on many commissions and boards connected with women's and civil rights.

In 1994, President Bill Clinton presented Height with the Medal of Freedom. When Dorothy Height retired from the presidency of the NCNW, she remained chair and president emerita.

Awards and Honors:
* Presidential Citizens Medal (1989)
* Spingarn Medal from the NAACP (1993)
* Franklin Delano Roosevelt Freedom From Want Award (1993)
* Inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame (1993)
* Presidential Medal of Freedom (1994)
* Congressional Gold Medal by President George W. Bush on behalf of the United States Congress (Approved, 2003) (Awarded, 2004)