Mary Church Terrell

The Second Convention of the National Association of Colored Women - 2 Sept. 1899

Mary Church Terrell
September 02, 1899
Second Convention of the NACW
Print friendly

The bolded text below was underlined in the original transcript.

[Sept 2, 1899]

The Second Convention of the National Association of Colored Women

The second Convention of Colored Women, recently held in Chicago was a magnificent success from beginning to end. In the first place it was more largely attended than any previous meeting we have held. There were 145 delegates in all, and they were as earnest, well-poised, and intelligent a body of women as have ever met together. All the great dailies of Chicago without a single exception complimented them highly, both upon the manner in which they conducted the business of the Convention, and the way in which they conducted themselves.

The Daily News went so far as to say that “Of all the conventions that have met in the country this summer there is none that has taken hold of the business in hand with more good sense and judgement than the National Association of Colored Women, now assembled in this city. The subjects brought up, the manner of their treatment and the decisions reached exhibit wide and appreciative knowledge of conditions confronting colored people.” In commenting upon the delegates the Times Herald frankly admits “These women of color were a continual revelation, not only as to personal appearance, but as to intelligence and culture. If by a bit of magic the color of their skin could be changed to white, one would have witnessed a Conventio of wide awake women, which in almost every particular would favorably compare with a Convention of white skinned women. “I expected to see probably a dozen clever women” is the way one white club woman expressed it, “But instead of twelve, I saw nearly two hundred”. “It was simply an eye opener”.

We feel especially grateful to the press of Chicago for the accuracy and fairness with which it reported the proceedings of the Convention. Nothing could have spoken more eloquently and forcibly for the success of our meetings than the crowded houses they drew. Long before it was time to call the evening meetings to order, there was hardly standing room in Quinn Chapel, which is one of the largest churches in Chicago. while at the business sessions held in the mornings and a part of the afternoons it was more than comfortably filled with interested spectators. It was particularly gratifying to see the way the men enjoyed it and to [hear] the compliments they showered upon the officers and delegates for [business]-like methods we pursued in all our deliberations.

The women in the Chicago clubs had done all in their power to make the meeting a success before we came, so that when we arrived everybody was prepared to receive us with open arms, so to speak.

We confined ourselves exclusively to the discussion of those questions which affect us most deeply and directly as a race. The first afternoon we talked about the best methods of establishing schools of domestic science. The National Association is the only national body of colored women in the country, we feel that we should study the labor question carefully and conscientiously. We want to do something to arouse our men and women to the alarming rapidity with which they are losing ground in the world of labor. We want to make our girls and our boys, too, for that matter, so skilled in the trades and so proficient in every avocation in which they may engage that instead of being boycotted as they are now in some sections of the country, they will be eagerly sought for and be well paid for their services. “Why the National Association should devise ways and means for establishing kindergartens” was the subject of discussion the second after noon. The hope of the race lies in the children was the burden of our song. If the Association did nothing else but try to save the children its mission would be more than nobly fulfilled was the sentiment of the entire Convention. The Labor Question, the Convict Lease System, as It Affects Child Nature, Temperance, the Necessity of an Equal Moral Standard for Men and Women, and the Jim Crow Car Laws were ably treated by women who have made a special study of these various themes.

Several women of the dominant race, who are known throughout the length and breadth of the land attended our meetings, and spoke enthusiastically of the wonderful work we have already accomplished, and encouragingly of what we may hope to do. Mrs. Ellen M. Henrotin, honorary president of the National Federation of Women’s Clubs stayed in Chicago expressly to deliver an address of welcome in the name of this great body of women. We were both inspired and encouraged by the remarks of Mrs. Corinne Brown, chairman of the Industrial Committee of the National federation of Women’s Clubs and Vice President of Cook County Clubs, of Miss Elizabeth Parson, the only woman superintendent among seven in the public schools of the city of Chicago. Miss McDowell invited several of the officers to lunch with her and so did Miss Jane Addams of Hull House. In commenting upon this the Times Herald says: “The “Color Line” was given another good rub yesterday by Miss Jane Addams of Hull House, who entertained at luncheon a party of colored women. The guests included in this this little social departure were for the most part prominent out of town delegates to the Convention of the National Association of Colored Women, which has just closed in this city. After luncheon, at which Hull House residents were also present, another party of twenty five women came to inspect this social settlement. They were shown all about by the residents, evincing a great interest in every department. We were impressed” said one of the residents later, in the afternoon,” with the intelligence of these colored women. They inspected the settlement understandingly and poured in one us as many interesting questions as we could answer”. This is the first time says the Herald that colored women have been given decided recognition in a social way by a woman of the lighter skin. One of the dailies declared that when Miss Addams invited the delegates to the National Association of Colored Women to lunch with her, it was the whitest thing she ever did.

As I have already said, our Convention was a success in every particular. In speaking about the impression we made, one of the representative citizens of Chicago said- that we had done more to put our race in a favorable light in that community than anything the colored people had done for a long time. In commenting upon our Convention the Inter-Ocean compared it with the International Congress of Women recently held in London as follows: [“Kassandria Vivaria writing in the North American Review for August of the International Congress of Women that met a few weeks ago in London, saya bluntly: ‘It does not appear that this great meeting has marked any considerable or lasting step in the development of woman’s intelligence. “She was dissapointed”, says the Inter-Ocean “at the automatic succession of vague lifeless speeches. As she sat through meeting after meeting the conviction dawned upon her that there was something young and amateurish and aimless in the papers read, and her final conclusion was that the work of the Congress was in no way helpful to the millions of women who needed help. “Nothing like this,” continued the Inter Ocean, “could be said of the National Association of Colored Women at its session in this city. These women have not been promoting hobbies or whims or theories, but have been planning exactly how the less fortunate of the colored race are to be better educated, better clothed, and better fed. If but one kindergarten were to be the result of their meeting- and instead of one there is likely to be a hundred- they would have accomplished more for their kind than did the whole much-trumpeted International Congress of Women in London” The Chicago Tribune said: “The four days Convention in this city of the Colored women’s clubs represents a movement which does the greatest credit to their people. It is a remarkable evidence on the part of the more favored and more [educated] colored women of the country of an intelligent purpose to do their part in the common advancement of their race. Their efforts are calculated to command public respect and cannot fail to have in many ways far reaching influence”. After speaking more at length of the good work we have done it continues “That within a single generation since the war which gave freedom to the race such a gathering as this should be possible means a great deal” Could Abraham Lincoln looked in upon the nearly two thousand people crowded into the Quinn Chapel the other evening and seen the representatives of the race he emancipated and listened to the addresses said to have been so admirably spoken, of the president of the Convention, Mrs. Terrell, Mrs. Booker T. Washington, Mrs. Jeffrey, Mrs. B.K. Bruce, Mrs. Thurman and others, and observed their essential dignity, evident refinement of manner, and noted the breadth of the outlook for their race, and for the country, it is not difficult to imagine some of the emotions which would have stirred him, especially in view of their so clear apprehension of the real conditions of the problem before them.” One white club woman said “After [illegible] these capable colored women three days, I never want to hear another word about their being no hope for the Negro. Another thing, if the Lord helps him who helps himself, these colored club women will have a good long pull with providence”.

Terrell, Mary Church. 1899. "The Second Convention of the National Association of Colored Women." Mary Church Terrell Papers. Library of Congress.