Reference Entry

National Association of Colored Women

Dorothy Salem

in Black Women in America, Second Edition

Published in print January 2005 | ISBN: 9780195156775
National Association of Colored Women

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The national club movement developed as a response to increasingly complicated social welfare demands on community resources, a reaction to the growing racism of the late nineteenth century, a need to build a national reform network, and a mission to demonstrate the abilities of black women. Reflecting the spirit of progressive reform, black women subordinated denominational, regional, and ideological identities to forge a national club movement dedicated to racial betterment. The northeastern urban areas dominated the early years of national organization, influencing the direction and leadership during the formative years. As a result of these efforts, the National Association of Colored Women (NACW), through its regional, state, and city federations, developed institutions to serve the race for generations to come.The groundwork for successful club work emerged from beneficial, church, and literary societies in the urban North, where black women used their relative freedom to develop social organizations for serving the race. By 1890, Philadelphia, the city with the largest nineteenth-century black population in the North, was home to many mutual aid societies. Church-related missionary societies, often called Dorcas societies after the biblical woman who dedicated her life to good deeds, maintained several organizations to provide aid to ill and dependent women and children. The African Dorcas Association in New York City provided clothing, hats, and shoes for children who attended the African Free School. Other women held fairs in New York City to support the Colored Orphan Asylum.Literary societies, primarily social improvement associations meeting in a member's home, provided a structure through which women became informed about issues and skilled in effecting change. Literary societies offered poetry readings and musical performances, experience with parliamentary procedures, opportunities to develop leadership skills unhampered by either male or white dominance, and increased educational awareness of racial issues, which included segregation in transportation, lynching, debt peonage, and voting rights. Such literary societies often adopted projects to benefit the race. Their fund-raising skills supported local homes for the aged, colored schools, and orphanages.Responding to specific community needs, these early club efforts were narrow in scope, limited to a particular denomination or social clique, and short-lived due to lack of administrative knowledge or finances. The post-Reconstruction retrenchment in the South created problems of social injustice, and so black women were called to take on a more active role in helping the less fortunate of their race. By the late nineteenth century, the potential for organized action increased as the black population gained education, settled in urban areas, developed organizations to respond to local needs, and faced intensified racial discrimination and violence. During the last decade of the nineteenth century, all these preconditions came together and resulted in the national club movement to improve life for black Americans.Birth of a MovementThe national club movement emerged from three centers of club life in the North and East: Washington, DC, New York, and Boston. Washington, DC, a center of the black elite, attracted a national audience through conventions, conferences, and a forum, the Bethel Literary and Historical Association, founded in 1881. This public platform engaged the intellectual elite, including Mary Ann Shadd Cary, the first black female editor of Provincial Freeman; Hallie Q. Brown, lecturer for the British and American temperance movements; Mary Church Terrell, daughter of the first black millionaire; Fannie Barrier Williams, Chicago community leader, and Anna Cooper, leader in black secondary education. Most of the Washington women were teachers, aware of children's problems and of educational reforms. Many were volunteers at the Home for Friendless Girls, founded in 1886 by Caroline Taylor. Leaders in education, benevolence, and literary societies, these women joined together during the summer of 1892 to form the Colored Woman's League of Washington, DC.Black women in New York City were likewise involved in a variety of activities. On 5 October 1892, the black female leadership from the New York-Brooklyn community held a testimonial dinner to honor the antilynching crusader, Ida B. Wells-Barnett. Organized by Victoria Earle Matthews (a contributor to several New York dailies), Maritcha Lyons (a public school teacher), Sarah Smith Garnet (principal of a Manhattan grammar school), Susan Smith McKinney (a Brooklyn physician), and others, the testimonial dinner recognized Wells for her courage in researching, writing, and lecturing about lynching. This dinner stimulated the formation of two important women's clubs: the Woman's Loyal Union, organized by Mathews and Lyons later that month, and the Woman's Era Club of Boston, founded by Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin in January 1893.The Boston women reflected the town's educational and community activism. Ruffin had served on the Sanitary Commission and in the Kansas Relief Association, Women's Industrial and Educational Union, and Moral Education Society. With her daughter, Florida Ridley, and Maria Baldwin, principal of Agassiz School, one of the most prestigious white schools in Cambridge, Ruffin met to collect data, publish and disseminate tracts and leaflets, and develop any other service to improve the image of black women through example.While these three centers were developing services for their communities, several events soon drew these women together in a national effort. In preparation for the Columbian Exposition in Chicago, a Board of Lady Managers encouraged women from other countries to participate in an international demonstration of progress commemorating the discovery of America. When black women's groups from Washington, DC, and Chicago petitioned for inclusion in the planning process, they were rejected since they had no national organization to represent them. The Colored Woman's League of Washington, DC, attempted to organize a convention to become a national group, but lack of cooperation from other centers resulted in failure to gain exposition participation. Soon after, the Washington League invited women in all parts of the country to affiliate for racial advancement. Women's clubs from Kansas City, Denver, Norfolk, Philadelphia, and South Carolina responded. Black women in Chicago also responded to the rejection from the Columbian Exposition. In September 1893, the Chicago Women's Club was formed to take leadership in civic and community reform.The move to develop a national representative body quickened. In January 1894, the Colored Woman's League incorporated with affiliated leagues. Two months later, the Boston Woman's Era Club launched the first monthly magazine published by black women, The Woman's Era, which informed subscribers about fashion, health, family life, and legislation. Women from Chicago, Kansas City, Washington, Denver, New Orleans, and New York contributed to the magazine and served as heads of the magazine's departments. In October 1894, the National Council of Women invited the Colored Woman's League to become a member and send delegates to the spring 1895 convention. Eligibility required the Colored Woman's League to call itself a national organization. Through the columns of The Woman's Era, the league requested delegates from other clubs, but only a few accepted. Even though the announcement appeared in The Woman's Era, the Woman's Era Club sent no delegates since the Boston leadership was seeking a similar national role. Although the league behaved as a national organization at this 1895 National Council of Women's convention, no national convention of black women had yet taken place.The catalyst for calling a national convention was a slanderous letter sent by the Southern white journalist James W. Jacks. He wrote an open letter to the English reformer, Florence Belgarnie, to discount the charges made by Ida B. Wells-Barnett in her speeches about lynching in the United States. He accused all black women of being “prostitutes, thieves, and liars” with “no sense of virtue” or character. Belgarnie sent the letter to Josephine Ruffin, editor of The Woman's Era, who included a copy in a communication to subscribers. The black elite reacted with moral outrage, leading to Ruffin's call for a national conference in Boston. The newly elected leaders of the First National Conference of Colored Women of America represented an alliance of competing groups: Ruffin (Boston) as president, Helen Cook (Washington, DC) and Margaret Murray Washington of the newly formed Tuskegee Woman's Club as vice presidents, and Elizabeth Carter (New Bedford, Massachusetts) as secretary. Before leaving the conference, the delegates voted to form a permanent organization, the National Federation of Afro-American Women (NFAAW) to correct the image of black women using example to counter the charges of immorality. The conference's 104 delegates and 54 clubs represented 14 states and the District of Columbia and reflected the focus on female benevolence stressing middle class interest in home life and racial uplift. The women sought to lead the masses to social righteousness. They discriminated against no race or gender and welcomed the support of similarly concerned white women and African American men.As a result of this meeting, NFAAW accepted an invitation to participate in the Women's Congress at the 1895 Cotton States and International Exposition in Atlanta, Georgia. Prominent black women from twenty-five states attended to demonstrate the race's skills, culture, and talents. The separate black exhibition provoked conflict among the women. Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin expressed the northern integrationist opinion when she declined the invitation due to the racial segregation of contributions. Yet she did not speak for all northern women. Victoria Matthews attended and gathered information for the New York women. The group declared itself the Colored Women's Congress of the United States. The group met once more in Nashville during the Tennessee centennial in 1897, during which time they disbanded to strengthen the national aspirations of black women, aspirations threatened by the proliferation of so-called national organizations.To strengthen these aspirations the National League of Colored Women and the National Federation of Afro- American Women had to clarify their interrelation-ships as national organizations. The women realized that competition for members, financial resources, and the attention of the white press could endanger the emerging club movement. Both groups held their national conventions in Washington, DC, during July 1896, a duplication of effort that left their organizational quest open to ridicule. The leadership of both groups sought unity. Therefore, a representative body of seven women from each organization deliberated together to overcome the factionalism and conflicts that historically had constrained the effectiveness of these black women's clubs. The joint committee elected Mary Church Terrell as chair and recommended the two organizations merge to form the National Association of Colored Women (NACW). For self-protection, self-advancement, and social interaction, the NACW gradually lessened the city and class divisions that had historically prevented national unity.Mary Church Terrell became the first president of the NACW, aided by vice presidents from Boston, Philadelphia, Kansas City, and New Orleans. The strength of the NACW remained in the Northeast with Washington, DC, and the Boston area predominating. These women valued self-help, protection of women, honesty, and justice. They honored the past and present black leadership with organizations named the Sojourner Truth Club, Phyllis Wheatley Club, Lucy Thurman WCTU Club, Ada Sweet Club, and Ida B. Wells Club. The religious roots appeared in clubs such as the Calvary Circle and Christian League. Joining heroines of the past with younger, ambitious women filled with hopes for the future, merging old traditions with new scientific methods of social organization, the NACW became a major vehicle through which black women attempted reform during the next four decades.After founding the NACW, the women responded to the general reform context. As educated, elite women, they actively supported the major women's reform movements seeking moral purity, temperance, self-improvement, and suffrage. Their racial identity, however, complicated participation in national women's organizations that included the National Congress of Mothers, the Women's Christian Temperance Union, the National Council of Women, the General Federation of Women's Clubs, the National American Woman Suffrage Association, and the Young Women's Christian Association. Black women had different perspectives on the women's issues; they possessed a triple consciousness because they were American, black, and women.They reassembled in Nashville to formalize the organizational structure of the NACW and to demonstrate black female worth and capabilities. Held during the Nashville centennial, the first annual conference (the first biennial was in Chicago in 1899) became a platform for racial self-defense. Unlike their failure to win recognition as a national organization for the Chicago Exposition, the NACW won recognition from the Nashville Centennial's Woman's Department as a national organization representing about five thousand members.The focus was on women and children. The NACW sought kindergartens to educate young children and improved care within the home. The leadership wanted to protect women. Mothers' meetings became a means for racial uplift. Reflecting the optimistic spirit of progressivism, the women wanted less criticism and more emphasis on the progress of the race. Themes of self-help and racial solidarity appeared in every speech. The defensive character of the NACW mission appeared in evidence of the moral, mental, and material progress made by people of color. The status of the race required black women's leadership in self-help beginning in the home and carrying through mothers' congresses, kindergartens, and schools to develop the intellect and to prepare for jobs. The elite leaders were duty bound to protect and sympathize with their fallen sisters, not only by preaching, but also by practicing race unity and race pride. By the end of the Nashville meeting, the NACW had gained both a formal structure and a communications network in the publication of the National Notes, a means through which local, reform-minded black women could disseminate information, discuss issues, and stimulate further organization.Conflict ResolutionThe strength of the North in leadership, conference locations, and issues appeared in the biennials of the NACW during the pre–World War I period, a time when 90 percent of the black population lived in the South. During these early years, regional, personal, and ideological conflicts threatened to halt the precarious unity of the national club movement. At the first biennial in Chicago (1899), all three types of conflict were present. Mary Church Terrell had to rely on the local Chicago women for assistance in planning and executing this meeting. The Chicago club women warned Terrell that the participation of Ida B. Wells-Barnett would lead them to resist. Since Terrell relied on these local women for the planning and program, she decided to omit Wells-Barnett during these early stages. Wells-Barnett, offended by the exclusion, charged that Terrell feared losing her position to Wells-Barnett. Terrell, however, was more a practical politician than a jealous competitor. Terrell did not include Wells-Barnett in the planning stages for many reasons. First, since the convention took place in Chicago, Terrell could not offend the leading club women, who disliked working with Wells-Barnett. Second, Wells-Barnett, as the secretary to the Afro-American Council, which was holding its annual meeting in Chicago during the same week, would be involved in other activities. Third, Wells-Barnett's reputation for being outspoken and for creating controversy was not a desirable trait for an organization attempting to unite factions of black women and to provide a positive public image of reserved, ladylike leadership. Terrell personally admired Wells-Barnett's courage and direct approach to many issues, but that very style of interaction could threaten the loosely organized, infant federation. Terrell was an excellent judge of the politically expedient. She understood the need to build a structure through which black women could effectively attack racial injustices.A second conflict emphasized regional jealousies over the recognition of credentials, selection of officers, and parliamentary procedures. Some of the delegates arrived with no credentials. To avoid setting a negative precedent for the NACW, Mary Church Terrell ruled that those delegates lacking proper credentials could not take part in the proceedings. When Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin attempted to speak on a subject, Terrell ruled her out of order. The past rivalry of the Boston-Washington clubs was reinforced by the credential and parliamentary procedure difficulties.The regional rivalries erupted again during the election process. The NACW constitution prevented a president from serving more than two consecutive terms. Since Terrell had served as the head of the joint committee and as president of the NACW when formally organized at Nashville in 1897, many delegates thought Terrell ineligible. The NACW did not count Terrell's leadership before the adoption of the constitution in 1897. With the constitutional issue resolved, Terrell won reelection. The position of first vice-president had Ruffin, Libby Anthony, and Josephine Bruce in competition. Ruffin and Anthony withdrew, giving that office to Bruce. The position of recording secretary, too, produced conflict between Chicago's Connie A. Curl, New Bedford's Elizabeth C. Carter, and Pittsburgh's Mary Sutton. Even though the South had won only three of the eleven offices, Carter withdrew, charging the NACW with playing power politics by using her Northeastern Federation for money and influence to help expand the NACW.These conflicts in parliamentary procedure and selection of officers led to negative publicity. Carter announced the withdrawal of the Northeast Federation, the only regional federation. The Woman's Era Club of Boston and Northeast Federation took their complaints to the press. The NACW responded with public refutations of the charges and persuaded the northern women to remain for the sake of unity. (1859–1912) was the second president of the NACW, from 1901 to 1906. Library of CongressThe next seven biennials deliberately attempted to balance the centers of club activity in biennial location and leadership to lessen the regional conflicts. Hence, the northern interests received four biennials: 1901 Buffalo, 1906 Detroit, 1908 Brooklyn, and 1914 Wilberforce. Centers of club activity received recognition in the election of their leaders to the presidency: Josephine Silone Yates (1901–1906) of the Kansas City League, Lucy Thurman (1906–1908) of the Michigan State Federation, Elizabeth Carter (1908–1912) of the Northeast Federation, and Margaret Murray Washington (1912–1916) of the Tuskegee Women's Club and the National Federation of Afro-American Women. The clubs of the North were satisfied, but conflict did not cease. The election of the darkest-skinned candidate, Lucy Thurman, demonstrated the color consciousness of the black female network. By choosing a dark-skinned sister, the women sought to counter white opinion that light-skinned elites proved the relationship between leadership skills and the percentage of white blood. The publication of National Notes at Tuskegee provoked charges of “Tuskegee machine” censorship from Ida B. Wells-Barnett at the Louisville meeting. More a personal than ideological conflict, the charges failed to gain adherents and Tuskegee continued publishing the newsletter through 1922.Contributions and AdvancementsThe club women shared more in common as the decades progressed. During the pre–World War I years, the NACW expanded in numbers, regions, and interests. Only one regional and six state federations existed in 1901, yet by 1909, the southern federation and twenty state federations had developed. By 1916 three hundred new clubs had joined the NACW since the last biennial. The departments within the NACW grew and changed from social science, domestic science, juvenile court, humane and rescue work, religion, temperance, music, literature, and publication to include mothers' clubs, kindergartens, and business and professional women. The expansion and increased specificity of interests responded to the participation of educated women in business, social work, and the professions while still showing interest in women's issues and the family. The club women stressed the responsibility of the privileged to help their social inferiors, since white Americans increasingly judged the race by its lowest elements. By training the lower classes to adopt attitudes, manners, and other behavior acceptable to the middle class, these “missionaries” hoped to improve the perceptions held by whites about the race. The self-help method fit the careers of the overwhelming majority of the NACW leaders and was the most acceptable path to advancement supported by white reformers and philanthropists alike.These self-help efforts to uplift and serve the community were best seen in the local club activities in the North. Typically, care for the race's aged was the first type of organized reform initiated by club women. Lack of programs to care for aging former slaves mobilized groups of women to organize, charge membership fees, hold socials, and solicit county funds. They raised money to cover services, purchase facilities, and hire qualified personnel to manage these homes for the aged. The Alpha Home in Indianapolis, the Cleveland Home for Aged Colored People, and similar services in Chicago, Brooklyn, New Bedford, Newark, and Philadelphia emerged from the efforts of individual women joined by organized clubs adopting the projects. For example, Gabrella Smith of Chicago founded the Home for Aged and Infirm Colored People by taking homeless elderly into her house. She interested other women in her project. Soon, Anna Hudlin organized a club for the placement of aged in the home. The club raised funds, obtained other properties, provided furnishings, and managed an endowment for the home's operation. The club women assumed many of the daily responsibilities by developing a network of volunteers. The Woman's Loyal Union established a Home for Aged Colored People. The same group provided the support for a venture started by club woman Elizabeth Carter, whose New Bedford Home for the Aged received recognition from the NACW as the greatest such enterprise established by the race. Clubs accepted responsibility for the aged in their communities. New Haven's Twentieth Century Club assumed the financial obligations for the Hannah Gray Home. Detroit club women developed the Phyllis Wheatley Home for Aged Colored Women under the leadership of Mary E. McCoy, wife of the inventor Elijah McCoy and founder of the Detroit club.Closely related to care for the aged were the local programs to aid the infirm and dependent populations. Women's clubs aided the colored departments or wards in hospitals, created medical facilities for black communities, and developed specialized medical services. The New York club women contributed food, clothing, and services in the form of lectures and performances to the Lincoln Hospital and Home. New Jersey women formed the Charity Club to assist Christ Hospital in Jersey City. Berean Church club women helped Dr. Caroline Still Anderson establish a dispensary in Philadelphia, while the Yates Women's Club supported a small black hospital in Cairo, Illinois. The need for health care for tuberculosis patients led the Indianapolis Woman's Improvement Club to establish the Oak Hill Tuberculosis Camp, the first of its kind in the nation. Gradually, these health care efforts emerged from their charity roots to reflect the general trends in progressive reform calling for investigation, planning, and alteration of the environment rather than merely treating the patient.Mixtures of charity and social welfare approaches were also evident in the club women's efforts for youth. As with the homes for the aged, many of the orphanages started out with one woman's concern for dependent children. Amanda Smith, international evangelist and temperance lecturer, used her own money to start a children's home in Harvey, Illinois. Joined by the Illinois club women and aided by the State of Illinois, the home expanded to care for over sixty children by 1908. Smith was over sixty at the time she began the effort, but her dream prospered and continued after her death through the organized efforts of the club women. Chicago club women aided the Louise Children's Home and Home for Dependent Children. The New Bedford Women's Club supported a children's home founded in 1904. As with the homes for the aged, the segregated facilities did not provoke conflict due to their charitable nature and to the belief that the race could better care for its own.Black club women thought that the most efficient way to reform society was to care for and instruct the young. As a result of that belief, club women developed day nurseries and kindergartens that required little expenditure for facilities or staff. Provided in a church basement, a club woman's home, or a rented house, day nurseries needed only to rely on the women as volunteers. Kindergartens, a concept imported from German liberals, were usually established by the educated leaders in clubs. In many kindergartens, the club women instructed mothers in child care, health, and hygiene. The Chicago club women helped Wells-Barnett establish a kindergarten at Bethel Church in 1897. The Women's Christian, Social and Literary Club of Peoria, plus several others in the Illinois Federation, supported similar kindergarten and day nursery projects. Due to the integration of social services in Boston, the club women of Boston supported a kindergarten for black children in Atlanta through the Georgia Educational League. Before the Great Migration of black Americans came from the South to these northern cities, women had developed self-help services for the aged, infirm, and dependent populations from New York to Chicago to Detroit.The seeds for the development of urban multi-service centers grew out of the homes or missions for the protection of young black women coming to the northern population centers. The travelers' aid services could not or did not meet the expanding needs of black women migrating in search of better wages, working conditions, or opportunities. Victoria Earle Matthews, president of the Brooklyn Women's Club and Woman's Loyal Union, had been concerned about young women since her trip to attend the Atlanta Exposition. Upon her return, she gathered club women together to develop a social service for young working girls: the White Rose Home. These club women served as founders, administrators, teachers, and volunteers in kindergartens and in industrial training programs in cooking, laundry, sewing, chair caning, and wood burnishing. The White Rose Home in New York City became a model settlement house for other institutions in the North. The National League for the Protection of Colored Women, one of the three organizations that merged to form the National Urban League, was directly influenced by the White Rose Home. Soon, such homes for working women as the Phyllis Wheatley Home in Evanston and Chicago, Lincoln Settlement in Brooklyn, and the Phillis Wheatley Association in Cleveland (some clubs used the normative Phyllis spelling, others the actual Phillis form) expanded as community needs increased with the Great Migration.As jobs opened during World War I, black Americans left the South for northern opportunities. Between the 1910 and 1920 census, Detroit's black population had expanded by 623 percent, Cleveland's by 308 percent, and Gary, Indiana's by 1,284 percent. New York gained the highest urban black population, while Chicago went from eighth place to fourth place in similar population growth. By 1920, 85 percent of black Americans outside the South were urban residents. Such growth exacerbated the conditions that black women had been trying to improve through their self-help efforts. These multi-service centers filled the needs for lodging, job placement, night classes, industrial training, day nurseries, kindergartens, libraries, boys and girls clubs, savings clubs, choir and music programs, and social gatherings. They became the training ground for black visiting nurses and social workers graduating from nascent educational programs in social work. These multi-service community centers cooperated with the National Urban League through affiliation and laid the foundation for major social services in black communities for generations. As these services changed, so too did the women.The biennials of the NACW demonstrated the growth of competence and confidence among club workers. The 1916 Baltimore biennial highlighted trends toward racial pride and inter-organizational cooperation. By the time the women reconvened, the NACW had passed formal resolutions to support the woman suffrage amendment, to cooperate with the Young Women's Christian Association, National Urban League, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and to support federal antilynching legislation. The newly elected president, Buffalo club woman Mary B. Talbert, directed the NACW to assume financial obligations for the redemption and restoration of the Frederick Douglass home. Organized groups of black men had failed to redeem the Douglass Home. It was time for black women to demonstrate their abilities. Talbert's creative fund-raising and participation techniques appealed to racial identity, to female pride, and to an individual's need for recognition. All ages, regions, and institutions assisted. The campaign was so successful that the 1918 Denver biennial held a ceremonial burning of the mortgage on the Frederick Douglass home, which came to symbolize the success of one black man and the triumph of organized black club women.While rescuing the Douglass home, international conflict influenced the American home front. World War I created the occasion for club women to prove their patriotism, their abilities, and their solidarity. The war meant an end to laissez-faire social policy as the government guided national health campaigns, mobilized housing and urban development, and encouraged reforms such as industrial education, social insurance, and community activism. This surge in organizational activity created a growth in confidence and self-image because women felt needed. They proved their abilities, performed nontraditional jobs, and increased their expectations for postwar progress. The club women raised money through Liberty Loans, War Savings Stamps, and United War Work campaigns. Many club leaders served in the six black base hospitals and hostess houses. The Circle for Negro War Relief called on the national club movement for help. The club women used the war years to garner services for their communities and to demonstrate racial pride.As the war ended, demobilization produced thousands of returning soldiers, unemployment caused by reversion to peacetime economy, and readjustment to civilian life. Economic and social tensions exploded in the Red Summer of 1919, when twenty-six cities suffered race riots that left hundreds dead. By year's end, seventy-seven people had been lynched, including eleven soldiers. The postwar period provided the context in which rising expectations collided with reality. Black club women, armed with better training, inter-organizational connections, and confidence, sought less charity and more justice. They embodied both the New Negro and the New Woman as they attacked the chronic injustice of lynching.Mary Talbert built on wartime networks to mobilize women against lynching. She utilized women's imagination, money, and volunteer time to spread the information and raise the funds to cooperate with the NAACP in the national campaign against lynching. Talbert formed an ad hoc group for fund-raising and publicity that became known in 1922 as the Anti-Lynching Crusaders. Broader based than the NAACP, the Crusaders directed religious fervor into their attempt to unite one million women to suppress lynching and to pass the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill. Although federal legislation was never achieved, the public and political awareness of injustices changed and lynching declined. Talbert completed her term of office with the NACW and became a board member of the NAACP. The club women approached the 1920s as activists in the NACW, NAACP, and National Urban League. These multi-layered commitments modified the club women and the NACW.The change in the NACW was gradual at first. The biennials of 1920 and 1922 were held in Tuskegee and Richmond under the leadership of a northern club woman, Hallie Q. Brown, of Wilberforce, Ohio. With the NAACP fighting the legal and political battles and the National Urban League negotiating and investigating social and economic problems in the communities, the NACW had to carve out a niche for itself. Brown's leadership began to shape that role in education through what came to be known as the Hallie Quinn Brown Scholarship Loan Fund. Ohio club women honored Brown by leading the states in contributions to the fund. The letters NACW came to mean: National pride, Achievement, Cooperation, and Willingness to serve. The publication of National Notes was turned over to Myrtle Foster Cook of Kansas City, Missouri, who developed the newsletter into a magazine with reports, comments, and items of interest to club women. The departments of the NACW had changed to include the Frederick Douglass Memorial and Historical Association, Education, Child Welfare, Health and Hygiene, Social Service, Legislation and Law Enforcement, Big Sisters Movement, Fine Arts, Business, and Interracial Cooperation.The biennial attempts to balance location of meeting and national presidency continued under the leadership of the Southeast Federation's leader, Mary McLeod Bethune, president of the NACW from 1924 to 1928. The biennials during her leadership took place in Chicago and in Oakland, a recognition of the regional and numerical expansion of the NACW, which in 1924 included over 100,000 members. The NACW, now in the consolidation phase of its growth, gave Bethune authority to establish a national headquarters in the nation's capital and to compile the first official directory.A generational transition was also in progress. With the founding leaders of the NACW either dead or aging, the organization initiated plans to attract younger women through a junior division. The younger generation had its own interests that reflected the social life of the 1920s. The NACW adapted to these changes.When the club women came to the fifteenth biennial in Washington, DC (1928), the NACW dedicated the national headquarters at Twelfth and O Streets and the caretaker's cottage at the Frederick Douglass home, both physical examples of their achievements. The new president, Sallie W. Stewart of the Indiana Federation, reported that the junior division work was growing rapidly. The women memorialized past leaders and looked to the future, not knowing that this would be their last, great celebration of club work.Shift in FocusThe Great Depression modified their optimism. The women met for the next biennial in Hot Springs, Arkansas (1930). Two days of executive sessions focused on the financial problems confronting the organization. As if to escape the unpleasant realities surrounding them, the club women toured a model house, viewed exhibits of beautiful homes and fine art, and expressed optimism about the scholarship fund, expansion, and the nation's future. The departments merged to form the Board of Control (a financial monitor), a National Association of Colored Girls, and Women in Industry, and Mother, Home, and Child.The NACW did not meet again in biennial until 1933, when club women came to celebrate the Chicago Exposition. Dr. Mary Waring, one of the original club women in Chicago, became president. The discussions, although permeated with references to the causes of and solutions to the Depression, focused on traditional women's goals to standardize the home; create a good environment for the child; train girls to be industrious, artistic and gracious; improve working conditions for women and girls; and increase community service. At the 1935 Cleveland biennial, Waring informed members about threatened court action against the NACW for the printing costs of the official history compiled by Elizabeth L. Davis. Past president Mary McLeod Bethune, director of the National Youth Administration's Division of Negro Affairs, reported on the financial condition of the NACW headquarters.Bethune's position in the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt had demonstrated to her a need for a united coalition of all black women's organizations to pressure the political system into action to help the race. Criticized by many of the older leaders of the NACW for attempting to weaken or destroy the national club movement, Bethune nevertheless organized the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) in 1935. With this united coalition, Bethune continued to influence the national direction of black women through national political structures. Her efforts in the National Youth Administration provided work experience for over 400,000 blacks and utilized over 700 to administer these programs. Self-help could make no such claims. Just as some years earlier, local club women united to form a national club movement, now Bethune saw a need to influence national politics through a united coalition of black women's groups.With the creation of the NCNW in 1935, the NACW declined in its original importance. With the NACW's cooperation and support, other organizations had taken over responsibilities for the black community by specializing in goals and tactics. City, state, and private organizations provided institutional support for many of the services started by the club women. The Depression brought economic devastation to black communities and a changing political context through which reform was directed. The younger generation joined the NACW more as a social outlet than as a means to serve the community. They sought means to affect their personal mobility, not to uplift their downtrodden sisters.As the political and ideological contexts changed, the NACW persisted with fewer members and a different direction after 1935. It was during the period of the club movement's greatest growth, the 1890s through the 1920s, that the NACW achieved its legacy—shaping the leadership, the institutions, and the identity of a people through its women.See also Bethune Museum and Archive; Bethune, Mary McLeod; Brown, Charlotte Hawkins; Height, Dorothy Irene; Hope, Lugenia Burns; Hunton, Addie Waits; Matthews, Victoria Earle; Stewart, Sallie Wyatt; Talbert, Mary Morris Burnett; Terrell, Mary Eliza Church; Washington, Margaret Murray; Wells-Barnett, Ida B.; Williams, Fannie Barrier; World's Columbian Exposition; and Young Women's Christian Association.

Reference Entry.  6688 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History

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