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Dorothy Height Essay

Dorothy Irene Height was born March 24, 1912 in Richmond, Virginia to Fannie Burroughs and James Height. Both of Height's parents had been widowed twice before and each brought children to the marriage. Fannie Burroughs and James Height had two children together, Dorothy and her sister Anthanette. In 1916 the family moved north to Rankin, Pennsylvania (near Pittsburgh) where Height attended public schools. Height's mother was active in the Pennsylvania Federation of Colored Women's Clubs and regularly took Dorothy along to meetings where she early established her "place in the sisterhood."

Height's long association with the YWCA began in a Girl Reserve Club in Rankin organized under the auspices of the Pittsburgh YWCA. An enthusiastic participant, who was soon elected President of the Club, Height was appalled to learn that her race barred her from swimming in the pool at the central YWCA branch. "I was only twelve years old. I had never heard of 'social action,' nor seen anyone engaged in it, but I barely took a breath before saying that I would like to see the executive director," Height related in her 2003 memoir. Though her arguments could not bring about a change in policy in 1920s Pittsburgh, Height later dedicated much of her professionl energy to bringing profound change to the YWCA.

In need of money to attend college, Height entered an oratorical contest sponsored by the IBPO Elks. Her speech on the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution won her a full four-year scholarship. Turned down for admission to Barnard because the college's quota of two African-American students per year was already filled, Height instead went to New York University where she earned a B.S. in the School of Education in 1932 and an M.A. in psychology in 1934.

From 1934-37, Height worked in the New York City Department of Welfare, an experience she credited with teaching her the skills to deal with conflict without intensifying it. From there she moved to a job as a counselor at the YWCA of New York City, Harlem Branch, in the fall of 1937. Soon after joining the staff there, Height met Mary McLeod Bethune and Eleanor Roosevelt at a meeting of the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) held at the YWCA. In her 2003 memoir, Height described the meeting: "On that fall day the redoubtable Mary McLeod Bethune put her hand on me. She drew me into her dazzling orbit of people in power and people in poverty…. 'The freedom gates are half ajar,' she said. 'We must pry them fully open.' I have been committed to the calling ever since." The following year Height served as Acting Director of the YWCA of New York City's Emma Ransom House residence. In addition to her YWCA and NCNW work, Height was also very active in the United Christian Youth Movement, a group intensely interested in relating faith to real world problems.

In 1939 Height went to Washington, DC to be Executive of the Phyllis Wheatley Branch of the DC YWCA. She returned to New York City to join the YWCA national staff in the fall of 1944, joining the program staff with "special responsibility" in the field of Interracial Relations. This work included training activities, writing, and working with the Public Affairs committee on race issues where her "insight into the attitude and feeling of both white and negro people [was] heavily counted on." It was during this period that the YWCA adopted its Interracial Charter (1946), which not only pledged to work towards an interracial experience within the YWCA, but also to fight against injustice on the basis of race, "whether in the community, the nation or the world." Convinced that segregation causes prejudice through estrangement, Height facilitated meetings, ran workshops, and wrote articles and pamphlets aimed at helping white YWCA members transcend their fears and bring their daily activities in line with the Association's principles.

In 1950 Height moved to the Training Services department where she focused primarily on professional training for YWCA staff. She spent the fall of 1952 in India as a visiting professor at the Delhi School of Social Work, then returned to her training work in New York City. The increasing momentum of the Civil Rights movement prompted the YWCA's National Board to allocate funds to launch a country-wide Action Program for Integration and Desegregation of Community YWCAs in 1963. Height took leave from her position as Associate Director for Training to head this two-year Action Program. At the end of that period, the National Board adopted a proposal to accelerate the work "in going beyond token integration and making a bold assault on all aspects of racial segregation." It established an Office of Racial Integration (re-named Office of Racial Justice in 1969) as part of the Executive Office. In her role as its first Director, Height helped to monitor the Association's progress toward full integration, kept abreast of the civil rights movement, facilitated "honest dialogue," aided the Association in making best use of its African-American leadership (both volunteer and staff), and helped in their recruitment and retention. Shortly before she retired from the YWCA in 1977, Height was elected as an honorary national board member, a lifetime appointment.

Height became President of the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) in 1958 and remained in that position until 1990. While working with both the YWCA and NCNW, Height participated in the Civil Rights Movement and she was considered a member of the "Civil Rights Six" (a group with up to nine members, including Martin Luther King, Jr., James Farmer, John Lewis, A. Philip Randolph, Roy Wilkins, and Whitney Young.) Height has also been recognized as one of the creators/organizers of the "Wednesdays in Mississippi" group in 1964, which brought Northern and Southern women of all races together to work against segregation. Additionally, Height developed many international volunteer programs with the NCNW in Asia, Africa, Europe, and South America.

Height has been presented with many awards and honorary degrees for her work, including the Citizens Medal from President Ronald Reagan in 1989, the Spingarn Medal from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and the Medal of Freedom from President William J. Clinton in 1994. In 1986 the YWCA and the NCNW sponsored the Dorothy Height Tribute Dinner to celebrate her years of service. Among the colleges and universities to present Height with an honorary degree are New York University; Smith College; Harvard; the Tuskegee Institute; and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Height's memoir Open Wide the Freedom Gates was published in 2003.

Dorothy Height died in Washington, DC, on April 20, 2010.

For the fantasy writer, see Dorothy J. Heydt.

Dorothy Irene Height (March 24, 1912 – April 20, 2010[1]) was an Americanadministrator and educator who worked as a civil rights and women's rightsactivist, specifically focused on the issues of African-American women, including unemployment, illiteracy, and voter awareness.[2] She was the president of the National Council of Negro Women for forty years and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1994 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2004.[1]

Early life[edit]

Dorothy Height was born in Richmond, Virginia. When she was 5 years old, she moved with her family to Rankin, Pennsylvania, a steel town in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, where she graduated from Rankin High School in 1929. Height received a scholarship from the Elks, which helped her to attend college.[3] She was admitted to Barnard College in 1929, but upon arrival was denied entrance because the school had an unwritten policy of admitting only two black students per year.[4] She enrolled instead at New York University, earning an undergraduate degree in 1932 and a master's degree in educational psychology the following year.[5] She pursued further postgraduate work at Columbia University and the New York School of Social Work (the predecessor of the Columbia University School of Social Work).[6]


Height started working as a caseworker with the New York City Welfare Department, and at the age of 25, she began a career as a civil rights activist, joining the National Council of Negro Women. She fought for equal rights for both African Americans and women. In 1944 she joined the national staff of the YWCA. She was also an active member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority, throughout her life, developing leadership training programs and ecumenical education programs.[7] She was initiated at Rho Chapter at Columbia University. She served as national president of the sorority from 1947 to 1956.[7]

In 1957, Height was named president of the National Council of Negro Women, a position she held until 1997. During the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, she organized "Wednesdays in Mississippi,"[8] which brought together black and white women from the North and South to create a dialogue of understanding. Height was also a founding member of the Council for United Civil Rights Leadership. In his autobiography, civil rights leader James Farmer described Height as one of the "Big Six" of the Civil Rights Movement, but noted that her role was frequently ignored by the press due to sexism.[9]

American leaders regularly took her counsel, including First LadyEleanor Roosevelt.[clarification needed] Height encouraged PresidentDwight D. Eisenhower to desegregate schools and President Lyndon B. Johnson to appoint African-American women to positions in government. In the mid-1960s, she wrote a column called "A Woman's Word" for the weekly African-American newspaper the New York Amsterdam News, and her first column appeared in the issue of March 20, 1965, on page 8.

Height served on a number of committees, including as a consultant on African affairs to the Secretary of State, the President's Committee on the Employment of the Handicapped, and the President's Committee on the Status of Women. 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[10] a response to the infamous "Tuskegee Syphilis Study" and an international ethical touchstone for researchers to this day.

Later life[edit]

In 1990, Height, along with 15 other African Americans, formed the African-American Women for Reproductive Freedom.[11] Height was recognized by Barnard for her achievements as an honorary alumna during the college's commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 2004.[4]

The musical stage play If This Hat Could Talk, based on her memoirs Open Wide The Freedom Gates, debuted in 2005. The work showcases her unique perspective on the civil rights movement and details many of the behind-the-scenes figures and mentors who shaped her life, including Mary McLeod Bethune and Eleanor Roosevelt.

Height was the chairperson of the Executive Committee of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the largest civil rights for women's rights organization in the USA. She was an honored guest at the inauguration of PresidentBarack Obama on January 20, 2009, and was seated on the stage.[1]

She attended the National Black Family Reunion that was celebrated on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., every year until her death in 2010.[12]

Personal life and death[edit]

According to a family history DNA analysis performed by African Ancestry Inc.,[13] Height's maternal line has a root among the Temne people of modern-day Sierra Leone.[14] Dorothy Height was never married and never had children. On March 25, 2010, Height was admitted to Howard University Hospital in Washington D.C. for unspecified reasons. She died six weeks later, on April 20, 2010, at the age of 98. Her funeral service at the Washington National Cathedral on April 29, 2010 was attended by President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, as well as many other dignitaries and notable people.[15] She was later buried at Fort Lincoln Cemetery in Colmar Manor, Maryland.[16]

Awards and honors[edit]

  • Candace Award for Distinguished Service, National Coalition of 100 Black Women (1986)[17]
  • Presidential Citizens Medal (1989)
  • Spingarn Medal from the NAACP (1993)
  • Franklin Delano Roosevelt Freedom From Want Award (1993)
  • inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame (1993)
  • Presidential Medal of Freedom (1994)[1]
  • 7th Annual Heinz Award Chairman's Medal (2001)[18]
  • National Jefferson Award for Greatest Public Service Benefiting the Disadvantaged (2001)[19]
  • Listed on Molefi Kete Asante's list of 100 Greatest African Americans (2002)[20]
  • Congressional Gold Medal by President George W. Bush on behalf of the United States Congress (Approved 2003, awarded 2004)[1]
  • One of the 34 honors on The Extra Mile Memorial in Washington D.C. (2005)
  • 2009 Foremothers Lifetime Achievement Award from the NRC for Women & Families[21]
  • Upon her death, President Barack Obama ordered flags to be flown at half-mast on April 29, 2010 in her honor.
  • On May 21, 2010, a callbox was dedicated to Height. It is located on 7th Street, SW, in front of the last building in which she lived.[22]
  • On March 24, 2014, in celebration of the 102nd anniversary of her birthday, Google featured a doodle with a portrait of Ms. Height above protestors marching with signs.[23][24][25]
  • November 2016, honored with a 2017 United States Postage Stamp, the 40th stamp in the Black Heritage Forever series. The painting of Height is based on a 2009 photograph shot by Lateef Mangum.


  1. ^ abcdeIovino, Jim (2010-04-20). "Civil Rights Icon Dorothy Height Dies at 98". NBC Universal. Retrieved 2010-04-20. 
  2. ^"Dorothy Height." 2013. The Biography Channel website. March 14, 2013, 08:53.
  3. ^Hine, Darlene Clark., William C. Hine, and Stanley Harrold. "Chapter 21." The African-American Odyssey Combined Edition. 5th edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, 2010. 596. Web.
  4. ^ ab"Civil Rights Pioneer Honor 75 years after rejection Barnard College recognizes woman the school once barred because of admission limit for blacks". Newsday. June 4, 2004. p. A22. 
  5. ^"Dorothy Height was educator and activist organizer". Post-Tribune. February 16, 2003. p. A2. Retrieved 2010-04-20. 
  6. ^Dr. Dorothy I. Height: Chair and President Emerita, National Council of Negro WomenArchived 2012-06-18 at the Wayback Machine., National Council of Negro Women. 75th Anniversary. Retrieved 29 May 2012.
  7. ^ abHeight, Dorothy (2003). Open Wide the Freedom Gates: A Memoir. New York: PublicAffairs Press. ISBN 978-1-58648-286-2. 
  8. ^Evans, Ben (2010-04-20). "Dorothy Height, civil rights activist, dies at 98". Associated Press. Retrieved 2010-04-20. 
  9. ^Farmer, James. Lay Bare the Heart. Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press. p. 215. ISBN 9780875651880. Retrieved September 22, 2014. 
  10. ^"The Belmont Report", U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.
  11. ^Kathryn Cullen-DuPont (1 August 2000). Encyclopedia of Women's History in America. Info base Publishing. p. 6. ISBN 978-0-8160-4100-8. Retrieved 4 February 2012. 
  12. ^Mr. Michael & Ms. C (2013). Why I Am So Proud to Be a Black Man: The Many Reasons to Uplift and Celebrate Our Uniqueness in the Universe. iUniverse. p. 165. ISBN 1475979290. 
  13. ^Haynes, V. Dion (September 10, 2006). "DNA test points to tribes of their past". Washington Post. 
  14. ^Dr. Height African Ancestry Reveal. on YouTube
  15. ^"Dorothy Height, U.S. Civil Rights Leader, Buried". The Epoch Times. Archived from the original on 2012-09-13. Retrieved 2010-04-30. 
  16. ^"Dorothy I. Height". National Park Service. Washington, D.C.: United States Department of the Interior. Retrieved March 8, 2018. 
  17. ^"CANDACE AWARD RECIPIENTS 1982-1990, Page 1". National Coalition of 100 Black Women. Archived from the original on March 14, 2003. 
  18. ^The Heinz Awards, Dorothy Height profile
  19. ^National Winners, Jefferson Awards.
  20. ^Asante, Molefi Kete (2002). 100 Greatest African Americans: A Biographical Encyclopedia. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books. ISBN 1-57392-963-8.
  21. ^"The 2009 Health Policy Heroes and Foremother Awards".Archived 2011-05-14 at the Wayback Machine. National Research Center for Women & Families. Retrieved 2010-12-05.
  22. ^The Southwester, June 2010.
  23. ^Kashmira Gander (March 24, 2014). "Google Doodle US marks Dorothy Irene Height's birthday". The Independent. Retrieved March 25, 2014. 
  24. ^Michael Cavna (March 24, 2014). "DOROTHY IRENE HEIGHT: 'Godmother of the civil-rights movement' was a portrait in powerful change. Google Doodle salutes her accordingly". The Washington Post. Retrieved March 25, 2014. 
  25. ^Charlotte Alter (March 24, 2014). "Google Doodle Honors Dorothy Height, Unsung Leader in Civil Rights and Women's Movements". Time. Retrieved March 25, 2014. 


  • Height, Dorothy. Open Wide the Freedom Gates: A Memoir.
  • Tracey A. Fitzgerald, The National Council of Negro Women and the Feminist Movement, 1935–1975, Georgetown University Press, 1985.
  • Judith Weisenfeld, "Dorothy Height", Black Women in America: Profiles, MacMillan Library Reference USA, New York, 1999, pp. 128–130.
  • Legacy: Black and White in America, a documentary featuring Dorothy Height.
  • Norwood, Arlisha. "Dorothy Height". National Women's History Museum. 2017.
  • Dr. Dorothy I. Height Facebook Page

External links[edit]

  • Sadie T. M. Alexander, 1919–1923
  • Dorothy Pelham Beckley 1923–1926
  • Ethel Lemay Calimese, 1926–1929
  • Anna Johnson Julian, 1929–1931
  • Gladys Byram Shepperd, 1931–1933
  • Jeannette Triplett Jones, 1933–1935
  • Vivian Osborne Marsh, 1935–1939
  • Elsie Austin, 1939–1944
  • Mae Wright Downs Peck Williams, 1944–1947
  • Dorothy I. Height, 1947–1956
  • Dorothy P. Harrison, 1956–1958
  • Jeanne L. Noble, 1958–1963
  • Geraldine P. Woods, 1963–1967
  • Frankie Muse Freeman, 1967–1971
  • Lillian Pierce Benbow, 1971–1975
  • Thelma Thomas Daley, 1975–1979
  • Mona Humphries Bailey, 1979–1983
  • Hortense Golden Canady, 1983–1988
  • Yvonne Kennedy, 1988–1992
  • Bertha M. Roddey, 1992–1996
  • Marcia L. Fudge, 1996–2000
  • Gwendolyn E. Boyd, 2000–2004
  • Louise A. Rice, 2004–2008
  • Cynthia M.A. Butler-McIntyre, 2008–present
Dorothy Height with Eleanor Roosevelt, 1960