She was known as the “Godmother of the women’s movement.  For four decades she served as president of the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW).  She never married or had any children.  Dorothy worked as a teacher in the Brownsville Community Centre inBrooklyn,New York.  She was active in the United Christian Youth Movement after it was founded in 1935.

In 1938, Dorothy was one of ten young people selected to help Eleanor Roosevelt to plan a World Youth Conference.  That same year, Dorothy was hired by the YWCA where she worked for better working conditions for black domestic workers which led to her election to YWCA national leadership.

In 1957 she was selected to be president of the National Congress of Neighborhood Women.  She led the organization through the civil rights years and into self-help assistance programs in the 1970s and 1980s.  She built up the organization’s credibility and fund-raising capacity which helped to attract large grants. She was instrumental in getting the YWCA to be involved in civil rights beginning in the 1960s and she worked with the organization to desegregate all levels within. 

She was one of the few women to participate at the highest levels of the civil rights movement.  She marched with Dr. Martin Luther King in the March onWashingtonand was on the platform when he delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

Dorothy traveled extensively in her various positions, includingIndiawhere she taught for several months, toHaiti, toEngland.  She served on many commissions and boards connected with women’s and civil rights.

In 1986, Dorothy became convinced that negative images of black family life was a significant problem which needed to be addressed so she founded the annual Black Family Reunion, an annual national festival.

In 1994, she was presented with the Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton.  Although Dorothy retired from her position of president of the NCNW, she remained chair and president emerita.

At her funeral in 2010, President Barak Obama gave the eulogy.  “She never cared about who got the credit,” the president said. “What she cared about was the cause. The cause of justice, the cause of equality, the cause of opportunity, freedom’s cause” (  Dorothy died at the age of 98.

Let us remember this remarkable, history making pioneer in the civil and women’s rights movements.

Without community service, we would not have a strong quality of life. It’s important to the person who serves as well as the recipient. It’s the way in which we ourselves grow and develop.


Greatness is not measured by what a man or woman accomplishes, but by the opposition he or she has overcome to reach his goals.


No one will do for you what you need to do for yourself. We cannot afford to be separate. . . . We have to see that all of us are in the same boat.


We have to improve life, not just for those who have the most skills and those who know how to manipulate the system. But also for and with those who often have so much to give but never get the opportunity.


A Negro woman has the same kind of problems as other women, but she can,t take the same things for granted.


We’ve got to work to save our children and do it with full respect for the fact that if we do not, no one else is going to do it.


Dorothy Irene Height





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