Mary Church Terrell

The Fifth Biennial of the National Association of Colored Women - 8 July 1907

Mary Church Terrell
July 08, 1907
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The bolded text below was underlined in the original transcript.

[July 8, 1907]

The Fifth Biennial of the National Association of Colored Women.

Tomorrow, (July 9th) the National Association of Colored Women will hold the opening meeting of its fifth Biennial in Detroit Michigan. If it were possible to enact a law compelling all the Doubting Thomases and the scoffers to attend this convention, force them attentively to listen to the proceedings and be open to conviction at one and the same time, the race problem would be much nearer a just solution at the end of the week than it is to day. It is safe to assert that a visit to this convention of Colored women would be a revelation to the average man (or woman) of the dominant race, no matter how hopeful of his dusky brother’s future he has been nor how little prejudice against Colored people he may have. In reporting the proceedings of the second Biennial which was held in Chicago light years ago, every daily in the city, great and small, republican and democrat, good, bad and indifferent fairly exhausted Webster’s Unabridged trying to express their surprise at the expedition with which the business was transacted, the knowledge of parliamentary law which many of the women displayed and the earnestness manifested by all. The press of Buffalo and St. Louis where the two succeeding meetings were held was equally emphatic and profuse in complimenting the women upon the wisdom with which they planned and the skill with which they had executed some of the work in which they are engaged.

And it is no wonder that there should be so much amazement at the progress made and the work accomplished by Colored women for the elevation of their race in the short space of 40 years. To use a though of the illustrious Frederick Douglass, if judged by the depths from which they have come rather than by the heights to which those blessed with centuries of opportunity have attained, Colored women need not hang their heads in shame. The reports which will be read at the approaching convention will show that there is scarcely a service which Colored women can render their race that they are not either actually performing or trying to perform. It requires but a glance at the subjects which will be discussed to see how keenly alive Colored women are to the needs of their race in its efforts to develop along mental, moral and material lines. Even the most skeptical would be obliged to admit that Colored women are decidedly fertile in resources, if he could hear the various ways and means suggested by the delegates of the convention, when they discuss methods of accomplishing the work which they are trying to do.

Among the 30,000 members of the National Association are some of the most intelligent and useful Colored women in the United States. The president, who is instructor in English in Lincoln Institute, Jefferson City, Mo. was the first Colored Woman ever graduated from the Normal School of Newport, R.I. The Vice-President was graduated from Fisk University, one of the finest institutions for the higher education of Colored youth in the South. The Chairman of the Executive Committee graduated from the Normal School of Cleveland Ohio and taught in the white schools of that city several years. The Recording Secretary is teaching at the present time in the white schools of New Bedford Mass. and is as energetic and capable a woman as can be found in a day’s march. The chairman of the ways and Means Committee was appointed several years ago by the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union Superintendent of work among Colored people and has rendered excellent service in that cause. The work accomplished by out Corresponding Secretary, Miss Cornelia Bowen deserves special mention.

A few years ago single handed and alone she started out to found a school for the Colored people of Waugh Alabama, which is in the heart of the black belt of that State. By herculean efforts, rare self sacrifice, prodigious energy and unceasing industry she has succeeded in establishing an institution which is a veritable oasis of instruction in a desert of ignorance in which the neglected Colored people of that section are forced to live. The treasurer who is a teacher in Lincoln Institute, Jefferson City, Mo. the National Organizer, who is a successful business woman in Chicago, one of the assistant secretaries who is a teacher in a southern school and the other who has literally been a help meet to her husband who edits one of the best papers published by the race in addition to engaging in charitable work in Louisville Kentucky where she lives each and every one of these officers has rendered valiant and valuable service to the Association ever since they entered upon the discharge of their duties.

Although the National Association of Colored Women is deeply interested in every subject which vitally concerns the welfare of the race, nothing lies nearer the hearts of its members than the children. The more unfavorable the environment of children, the more necessary is it that steps be taken to counteract baleful influences upon innocent victims. How imperative is it then that as Colored women we inculcate correct principles and set good examples for our own youth whose little feet will have so many thorny paths of injustice and temptation to tread. From the first, strenuous efforts have been made to found kindergartens, particularly for the little waifs and strays whose better natures are throttled and whose noble impulses are crushed by the very atmosphere which they breathe. During the Biennial which will meet in Detroit, therefore, many reports will be read by delegates from organizations which during the ten years of the Association’s existence have established kindergartens. When one considers how small a portion of this world’s goods, the average Colored woman possesses, how little leisure she has for work outside of her own home and how few are the pennies she can afford to give to charity, he cannot help being surprised, when he learns how many kindergartens have been established and are being maintained by Colored women.

Reports from the Day Nurseries which have been founded will also occupy some of the time of the sessions. For obvious reasons there is a crying need of this particular charity among Colored women. Thousands of our wage-earning mothers with large families almost entirely dependent upon them for support are obliged to leave their infants all day entrusted to the tender mercy of some good-natured neighbor who promises much, but who does little or confided to the care of young brothers and sisters who do not know how to attend to them properly. Many small children of wage-earning Colored women are locked alone in a room all day, while the mother goes out to work. When one thinks of the slaughter of the innocents which is occurring with pitiless persistency every day and the hundreds who are either maimed for life or rendered imbecile by the neglect and cruel treatment received during their helpless infancy, it is evident that by establishing Day Nurseries Colored women will render one of the greatest services possible to humanity and the their race.

A few years ago the Phyllis Wheatley Club of New Orleans established a sanatorium with a training school for nurses which has given such indisputable proof of its utility and necessity that the municipal government of that southern city has appropriated annually several hundred dollars toward its support. During the yellow fever epidemic which occurred in New Orleans several years ago the nurses from this training school rendered such invaluable service to the stricken city and established such an excellent reputation for themselves that the young women who have since completed the course have no difficulty whatsoever in securing positions in the best families. Scattered all over the country are charitable institutions which have been founded or maintained by Colored women. Just how many it is impossible to state, since there is such a lamentable dearth of statistics on this subject. For this reason the National Association is trying to secure all the data possible bearing on this phase of our work.

In the convention at Detroit nothing will be more interesting than the reports of Mothers Clubs, for some of the strongest women in the organization are doing everything in their power to enlighten their less favored and more ignorant sisters upon their duties in the home. If the women of the dominant race with all the centuries of education, culture and refinement back of them, with all the wealth of opportunity ever present with them feel the need of a Mother’s Congress that they may be enlightened upon the best methods of rearing their children and conducting their homes, how much more do our women from whom the shack [shackles?] of slavery have but yesterday fallen need information on the same vital subjects. And so the National Association is working with might and main to establish Mothers Congresses in every village and town in which our women may be reached.

Perhaps nothing affords stronger and more convincing proof of the need and the possibilities of the National Association than the reports read by the delegates from the South. To our poor benighted sisters who are living on the plantation almost beyond the pale of civilixation we have gone and have been a light unto their darkness and a comfort to them in their wretchedness at one and the same time. We have taught them the A.B.C. of living by showing them how to make their hovels more habitable and decent with the small means at their command and how to care for themselves and their children more in accordance with the rules of health. By some of our clubs object lessons are given upon the best way to sweep, dust, cook, wash and iron. How to clothe children neatly, how to make and especially how to mend their garments, what food is the most nutritious for the price charged- these and other lessons in household economics the National Association through its intelligent, consecrated members are trying to teach.

Against the one room cabin we have inaugurated a vigorous crusade. When large families of men, women and children are all thrown promiscuously together in a single room, a condition of things common among our poor all over the land, there is little hope of inculcating morality and modesty. And yet, in spite of this environment which is so destructive of virtue, in spite of the fateful heritage of slavery and though the safe guards usually thrown around maidenly youth and innocence are in that section of the country where the majority of Colored girls live entirely withheld from them/ statistics compiled by men who would not falsify in their favor show that immorality among the Colored women of the United States is not so great as among women similarly situated in at least five foreign lands. Creating a healthful , wholesome public sentiment in every community to which it can extend its influence is believed by the National Association to be one of the greatest services we can render the race. The duty of setting a high moral standard and living up to it devolves upon Colored women in a peculiar way. False accusations and malicious slanders are continually being circulated against Colored women both by the press and by the direct descendants of those who in years past were responsible for the moral degradation of their female slaves. While these foul aspersions upon the character of Colored women have in many instances no foundation in fact, we know they can do us a great deal of harm, if those who represent the intelligence an virtue of the race do not both in private and public life avoid even the appearance of evil.

In every way possible the National Association of Colored Women is calling the attention of the country to the barbarity of the Convict Lease System, of which Colored prisoners, particularly the women are the principle victims, with the hope that the conscience of the nation may be touched and this foul stain upon its escutcheon be forever removed.

Affiliated with the Association is the North Eastern Federation which held its ninth annual convention in Boston last October at which there were delegates from 63 clubs. The work accomplished by northern Colored women tells as much for the progress of the race as that done by their sisters in the southern federation. Both together wield a tremendous influence for good.

In addition to the discussions of a practical nature papers will be presented by women who belong to clubs formed for the improvement of the individual, such as the literary and musical clubs which have joined the Association. The work of the Association is divided into departments with a superintendent at the head of each. It is safe to predict that the contributions made by the Superintendent of Mothers Clubs, of the Professional Women’s Clubs, of Suffrage, and of Music will add much to the success of the convention.

At present the National Association of Colored Women is represented by clubs in 36 states as well as in the two territories, [Indiana] and Oklahoma which have recently been received into the sisterhood of states.

Not only have many of the states organized into federations, but in some of the large cities, such as St. Louis, Cleveland, Chicago, Kansas City and elsewhere City Federations Have been formed.

In short the members of the National Association of Colored Women have proved by deeds as well as by words their genuine interest in the work of elevating their handicapped and struggling race and their determination to promote its welfare in every way they can. Carefully and conscientiously they are studying the questions which affect their race most deeply and directly. Against the abuses which degrade and dishearten us we intend to agitate, with such force of logic and intensity of soul that those who oppress us will either be converted to principles of justice and humanity or be ashamed openly to violate both human and divine law.

Lifting as we climb, onward and upward we go, struggling and striving and hoping that the buds and blossoms of our desires will burst into fruition ere long. With courage born of success achieved in the past we look forward to the future large with promise and hope.

Mary Church Terrell

526 T St. N.W.

Washington, D.C.

Terrell, Mary Church. “The Fifth Biennial of the National Association of Colored Women.” Mary Church Terrell Papers. Library of Congress. 8 July 1907.