National Council of Negro Women Sets New Agenda
Extraordinary educator and political leader Mary McLeod Bethune (1875-1955) founded NCNW in 1935 as an “organization of organizations” to represent national and international concerns of Black women. NCNW fought for jobs, the right to vote and anti-lynching legislation. It gave Black women the opportunity to realize their goals for social justice and human rights through united, constructive action. The legendary Dr. Dorothy Irene Height led NCNW for decades, securing its legacy of enlightened leadership and influence.
Mary McLeod Bethune, NCNW Founder and 1st National President, Advisor of Minority Affairs to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, said that she could not rest to see the unharnessed power among our women, so she called upon 28 national women leaders who responded to her call. She pointed out that what was needed was not another organization, but one that would bring organizations together. Mary Church Terrell proposed forming a “Council.” Thus, Mrs. Bethune founded the National Council of Negro Women as such – “a national organization of national organizations” at the 137th Street Branch, YWCA, New York City, December 5, 1935.
Mrs. Bethune envisioned NCNW functioning as a clearinghouse, facilitating networking and coalition-building, and advocating the use of collective power on issues affecting women, their families and communities. In 1937 in New York, the first community-based section was organized.
Through the years there has been growing appreciation and recognition of the value of a unified voice in the corridors of power. This has been expressed in different ways. What happens on Capitol Hill has direct bearing on the quality-of-life issues core to our community’s survival and well-being, and our voices must continue to be heard loudly.
When Bethune decided to step down as president of NCNW in 1949, she helped ensure that Dr. Dorothy Ferebee, NCNW 2nd National President, her personal physician and NCNW’s national treasurer, would be elected the next NCNW president. Not surprisingly, Ferebee put increased emphasis on healthcare education. Under her leadership, NCNW also focused on ending discrimination against blacks and women in the military, housing, employment, and voting. She continued fundraising efforts and participated in various meetings of national and international organizations. She was a member of the executive board of the White House’s Children and Youth Council and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
In 1951, Ferebee led NCNW in hosting a reception for the wife of the Vice-President at the Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C. This event was important because it gathered approximately 500 women from diverse backgrounds. As a result of Ferebee’s determination and leadership, it also was the first time that a
NCNW sets new agenda (page 2)
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