Dorothy Height

Lived:March 24, 1912—April 20, 2010 (aged 98)
Career:President, National Council of Negro Women, 1957-1997
Education:B.A. and M.A,, New York University

Dorothy Irene Height was an educator and civil rights and women's rights activist. President of the National Council of Negro Women for forty years, Height was one of the most influential women in the Civil Rights Movement in the United States.

Height was born in Richmond, Virginia, on March 24, 1912, and raised in Rankin, Pennsylvania. Graduating from high school in 1929, she won a national public speaking contest with the prize of a four-year college scholarship. She was admitted to Barnard College but was denied entrace due to the college's unwritten policy of admitting only two black students per year. Instead, she enrolled at New York University, receiving her bacholor's degree in 1932 and master's degree in educational psychology in 1933. Following college, Height worked as a caseworker with the New York City Welfare Department and then, starting in 1937, for the Harlem Young Women's Christian Association.

After meeting Mary McLeod Bethune, founder of the National Council of Negro Women, in 1937, Height joined the NCNW and began her work as a civil rights activist. In 1944 Height joined the national staff of the YWCA and remained active there until 1977. At the YWCA, she advocated for improved conditions for black domestic workers and was involved with the YWCA's integration policy. Height was also a life-long member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority, developing leadership training and education programs and serving as national president from 1947 to 1956.

Following Bethune's death in 1957, Height was named president of the NCNW, a position she held until 1998. As head of the NCNW, Height instituted social programs aimed at improving the quality of life of African Americans in the South. She is credited with being the first person in the Civil Rights Movement to view the problems of equality for women and for African Americans as a whole. Height was the only female founding member of the Council for United Civil Rights Leadership. Despite her role as one of the chief organizers of the 1963 March on Washington, no women were allowed to speak from the stage. In the 1960s, Height organized integrated partnerships for women with a public presence in the schools in the North and South, known as "Wednesdays in Mississippi."

Height served on and advised a number of committees, including the President's Committee on the Employment of the Handicapped, the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women, the Council to the White House Conference, UNESCO, the Institute on Human Relations of the American Jewish Committee, USAID, and the United States Information Agency. In 1974, she was named to the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research, which published The Belmont Report, a response to the infamous Tuskegee Syphilis Study. In 1990, Height co-founded the African-American Women for Reproductive Freedom.

Height was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1994 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2004. She died on April 20, 2010.

Speeches