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94 Years of Women’s Suffrage



This year marks the 94th anniversary of Women’s Suffrage in the United States. While 94 years seems like a very long time indeed, it represents less than half of the history of the country. For our nation’s first 144 years, women were largely denied the vote, and in factit was only white, male, property owners who had the privilege of casting ballots for candidates of their choice in most parts of the country. The Voting Rights Act, that in practical terms extended the right to vote to black people in the South, became law in 1964. 

We Americans tend to think of ourselves as being on the leading edge of civil and human rights, but women in Finland, Sweden, Norway, and New Zealand all had voting rights before those in the US. The first notable call for suffrage by women in the US was issued from a conference at Seneca Falls, NY in 1848, 72 years before the passage of the 19th Amendment. Many women campaigned for the right to vote through the second half of the 19th century, including notables Lucy Stone, Susan B. Anthony, Julia Ward Howe and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. There was disagreement over whether to support passage of the 15th Amendment, which gave black men the right to vote, and also over support for a 16th Amendment to extend voting rights to women.

Today, US woman exercise their voting rights more regularly than do men. More women attend and graduate from institutions of higher learning than men, and women also earn more graduate degrees. In these ways, we have made great progress. In other ways, women still lag far behind, especially in areas affording the exercise of power and control. Notable among these are women’s presence in the top ranks of executives of major corporations, on boards of directors of public companies, and as elected officials, particularly in the US Congress.

Much has been accomplished in achieving gender equity. Much work is left to be done.


Sylvia Ferrell-Jones

August 25, 2014

Celebrating Women Who Move America Forward



As we end February’s celebration of African-American achievement, we begin March and celebrate the achievements of American women.

The origins of March as Women’s History Month began when President Ronald Reagan proclaimed the week of March 7, 1982 as the first Women’s History Week.

After being petitioned by the National Women’s History Project in 1987, Congress then designated March as Women’s History Month, beckoning Americans to celebrate and honor the achievements of women.  However, have we truly answered that call?

If you didn’t know that March was Women’s History Month you are not alone. Women’s History Month has been an existence for longer than I have been alive, yet this is the first year I’ve known about it. I am spreading the word and you should too.

Throughout American history women have made enormous contributions to society in this country and all over the world. As President Reagan said in his first Women’s Proclamation, “American women of every race, creed and ethnic background helped found and build our Nation in countless recorded and unrecorded ways.

American women have succeeded in every human endeavor. They are doctors, lawyers, judges, teachers and so much more.  In a growing number of American households, women wear the figurative pants, the literal act of which was legally prohibited in America and remains illegal in many other countries (France just this past month  revoked its 214-year-old law prohibiting women from doing so!).

Despite contributions that equal those of men, few women are treated, rewarded, or paid as if they are. And few of America's trailblazing foremothers are recognized by history. Raising awareness of women’s accomplishments will help many realize how important women are and why we deserve equal treatment, respect, pay and reward.

 Women are our mothers, aunts, sisters, cousins, and friends. They protect us by fighting in the army, they teach us, they lead us, and they even make our lives easier with their inventions that are used by many of us every day. Did you know that a woman invented the windshield wiper? The refrigerator? Eye glasses?

Innumerable female achievements have been overlooked for far too long. Since the beginning of time we have learned “HIStory.” Now it is time to begin to honor amazing women by spreading HERstory. Women’s history is everyone’s herstory and it should be told!

Here’s how you can help: Please join us on Twitter (@ywcaboston  Hashtags: #whmtrivia #herstory #womenshistorymonth) and test your knowledge of remarkable American heroes who just happen to be women. Play with your friends and family, and spread the word!

Seonseray Oates is a YW Boston intern and Emerson College senior.

Former Boston Fed CEO Keynotes YW Academy




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(This speech was originally given by Cathy E. Minehan, Dean of the Simmons College School of Management, at the 18th Annual Academy of Women Achievers Celebration Luncheon on June 4th)

"Good Morning. It’s a pleasure to be here with you to celebrate the new entrants to YW Boston Academy of Women Achievers.  They are extraordinary role models for all of us, and the significance of that should not be underestimated.

 As a new Dean just finishing her first year in academia, I have been impressed once again with the importance of role models in the development of young leaders. In my years at the [Federal Reserve Bank of Boston], I often said that if a young staff member-a woman or ethnic, racial, or social minority especially- cannot see someone who looks like her or himself up in the management chain, the message is very powerful. Be careful; success in this organization may be a difficult road.

Similarly, in the academic setting, perhaps especially in a business school, role models like Professors, Deans, and professional visitors to the classroom must provide evidence that success is possible.  They also must reinforce that evidence with care and attention to the students’ concerns, or the wear and tear of the academic road, especially part-time, can take its toll in terms of discouragement and drop-outs.

So the message is clear- if we want successful employees, or successful students, with the overall benefit to our endeavors more generally that success brings, we must have credible role models. YW Boston, along with all the other great work that it does, preforms a valuable if not vital service in recognizing inspirational women role models across a variety of local industries. So it is with a great deal of thanks, and no small amount of admiration for the work that is involved in making this luncheon such a success, that I offer you a few thoughts today.

I have three objectives in speaking with you this afternoon. First, I want to sketch the outlines of the current national and local economies, and comment a bit on what the near-term future might hold. Next, I believe that women in particular are facing challenges in this economy that are unusual, and I want to share a few thoughts about that. And finally, given the stresses on women specifically and families more generally, I want to comment a bit on the joint efforts of YWCA and the Massachusetts General Hospital which work together across a wide array of initiatives.

On to the economy. One word sums it up-frustrating. After what seemed like a promising start to the year with job growth averaging above 200,000 for three months, last Friday’s dismal numbers and the downward revisions to the two previous months dampened any remaining enthusiasm.  Analysts had been worried that the slow GDP growth-Q1 was revised downward to below 2% last week too-and the slowness of second quarter demand were out of step with employment growth.  I expect that is no longer a worry.  Rather the question is whether the underlying pace of demand in the US economy is abating on its own, or whether the uncertainty regarding Europe and the fiscal situation in this country are the proximate causes of what are very disappointing economic data.  Or, more likely, is it some combination of the two?  Let me start with the strength of US demand and then move to the issue of uncertainty.

For most of the first half of this year, the US economy has been growing at a pace that, while slow, exceeds that of nearly all of the other major developed countries.  To be sure, that may be damning with faint praise, but it is important to remember that even a sluggish U.S. economy is vitally important to overall world growth. Warm winter weather across the U.S. got us all thinking the economy was about to take off.  But it now appears that job growth in the winter prompted by the weather simply borrowed from second quarter hiring.  The much slower second quarter data brought home the reality of this continuing very slow recovery.

Some see the deceleration of the second quarter not simply as a matter of the pattern of growth in the face of unusual seasonal trends, but as a harbinger of a potential double dip into recession. That concern has some merit but may be overdone. Economic history tells us that financial crises breed long recoveries, as it takes a long time to deleverage and derisk both financial and household balance sheets. That process is taking place as we speak, but it is gradual almost by definition.

Even with the revision to GDP growth for Q1, we are beginning to see some life in consumer spending, especially for autos. Business spending and investment slowed recently, but given strong corporate finances, it should pick up. Energy prices, especially natural gas and increasingly gasoline are retrenching and taking less of a toll on consumer pocket books. Job growth has been disappointing to be sure, but averaged over the past 6 months, it remains consistent with slow overall progress.  With this level of job growth and related state and local tax revenue, the pace of budget tightening within the states should ease and with that the significant pressure on jobs in the public sector.  Inflation trends are moderating, and my former colleagues in the Fed are maintaining very accommodative monetary policy, though whether they can or should do more is a question.  Based on low mortgage rates and estimates of pent-up demand, some brave analysts now even see housing as a possible plus by year-end.  I certainly hope they are right.

So absent the continuing crisis situations facing us, there is room for a bit of optimism on the US economy, and that extends to Massachusetts as well.  Our state has weathered the recession and recovery fairly well with job growth well above average and an unemployment rate that is about 2 full percentage points below that of the nation as a whole.  Unlike the last two recessions, the mix of industries in our state has served us well in this recovery and we have seen expansions in bio tech, medical and other high tech industries and resilience in our financial businesses. Obviously, we are dependent in many ways on the continuing growth of the US economy here in Massachusetts. That takes me to the sources of frustrating uncertainty that together threaten the future of both the US and the global economies. 

            The first of these lies beyond our borders.  It involves the continuing, and potentially worsening political, financial and economic situation in the European Union.  Some believe that the departure of Greece from the Union- the so-called “Grexit”-should have manageable side effects since it has been so long in coming and involves such a small economy.  But the knock-on effects to larger European countries with their own problems, like Spain and Italy to name two, could be devastating and the impact on the rest of the world, the US in particular, equally concerning.  The fact is that there is no precedent for even a small tear in, let alone a full break-up of, the Euro area and no playbook to go by in terms of assessing the spin-off problems it could present.  I had thought that somehow calm heads would prevail and the Europeans would “muddle through” but each day’s headlines create a higher level of uncertainty about whether that can happen.

In the United States we face our own crisis situation-not as existential as the European crisis- but extremely daunting nonetheless. Last year at this time, while we were approaching one of those periodic debt-ceiling struggles, it seemed likely to me that our own calm heads would prevail as we approached the August deadline. I was surprised they did not.

  Fiscal negotiations went to the edge of the precipice of actual default, resulting in the downgrade of the U.S. credit rating, something almost unthinkable even a couple of months before it happened. The Committee established to work out an approach to cutting several billion out of the U.S. budget over a 10-year period by year-end, failed in its task as well. So now, just after the 2012 election, we face the possibility of strong fiscal tightening with the combination of the automatic spending cuts known as the sequester that were part of the August 2011 agreement, and the end of the Bush tax cuts, the temporary payroll tax cut and the emergency extended unemployment insurance benefits that in some states are already winding down. This is coming to be known as the fiscal “cliff”.

 Last year I would have thought that in the face of such a fiscal crisis a bipartisan way would be found to muddle through without risking the economic impact of fiscal tightening falling over the so-called “cliff” would bring. While that may be just what the lame duck Congress will do after the election, this is by no means assured.

            And even if the Congress does address the “cliff,” the way in which it approaches that task makes a difference.  In my view the best solution would be to focus short-term policy on supporting growth even if in the short run the deficit grows; this should be accompanied by credible plans for the medium and longer term that address the real fiscal issues that face this country. That might be asking a lot of the lame-duck Congress, but models exist, like Simpson-Bowles, and taking such a reasonable, and measured course of action could reduce the headwinds facing US economic growth.

As things stand right now, however, uncertainty on both sides of the Atlantic is a dark cloud overhanging the continued growth of the US and global economies.  Europe is in recession, and the major countries of the developing world are slowing as well, at least in part reflecting the developed world’s issues.  While I continue to be relatively optimistic about the ability of the US economy to keep chugging along, that belief gets challenged more and more with each passing day. That does not augur well for things both nationally and locally. But given the impact on working women in this recession so far, the effect of further economic uncertainty and fiscal tightening on women and families could be significant.

            During the recession, industries with mostly male workers, like construction and manufacturing lost jobs at a faster pace than others.  During the recovery, however, jobs with higher female participation, like state and local government where women make up about 60% of the labor force, were harder hit.  This is because this recession hit state revenues harder than any other on record, thus affecting women workers more than men.  Male employment has for the most part rebounded, but female employment is just now beginning to grow again.  With more women functioning as heads of households, this long period of job loss has meant suffering for families and children as well.

            And we know that women in the work force face challenges that preceded the recession.  Women make up the majority of graduate students in most specialties, and fill pipelines in a wide variety of professions, but there are very few at the top. Women make up about half of middle management, according to research done by Catalyst, an organization focused on women in business.  Yet they only account for 14% of executive officers in Fortune 500 companies, 16% of the board seats in those companies and just 3.6% of CEO’s.  Only about 7.5% are counted as top earners at those companies.

And this is just executive women.  The situation is even more difficult for women down the ranks where persistent wage gaps remain.  A celebrated 2010 survey found that unmarried, childless, urban female workers actually earned more than men in the same categories.  But when women have children they both earn less than men and a wider gap emerges between their wages and those of childless women.  Moreover, it appears that children decrease women’s earnings, while they tend to increase the earnings of men.


            Why such a differential? Some of the reason has to lie in the fact that inadequate policies on childcare and family leave both at the level of the individual business and for the country as a whole make reconciling work and family obligations difficult.  And women bear the majority of those obligations especially at the low end of the income range.  What worries me is that if the approach chosen to resolve the fiscal situation facing this country acts in one way or another to further restrict support for working women and their families, the social consequences of that will be significant.

And that is why the work that YW Boston does to support working women and their families is so important.  I also know that the community that YWCA has created around these issues is an important mainstay to the Boston economy and to so many families here.  That is why as the chair of the Board of the Massachusetts General Hospital I am proud to say that we are engaged with YW Boston in many ways in the communities that the Hospital serves.  This involves the time and effort of several leaders on the Hospital’s staff who both serve on the board of YW Boston and work on programs that further their efforts both legislatively and in the community.  It also involves major Hospital initiatives in the Center for Community Health Improvement, headed up by Joan Quinlan who I believe is in the audience today, and in our Disparities Solution Center. The work of both these centers, involving as they do so many MGH staffers, intersects with and amplifies the work of YW Boston in many areas-improving community health, solving issues that lead to disparities in heath care for minorities, improving care for vulnerable populations such as immigrants and the homeless, just to name a few.

This work with YWCA is ongoing and forms an important part of the Hospital’s over 200-year-old mission to improve the communities which it serves.  But I would argue that this partnership, and all the partnerships that YW Boston has with organizations around Boston, are more important now than they may have ever been. With the economic uncertainty that faces this country, and the longer-term fiscal challenges that it faces, it is the community partnerships that will make the difference in the well being of greater Boston.

            In sum, this has been a long and rocky recovery from the deepest recession in the past 70 years or so.  We are far from fully recovered and while the national economy is growing, the pace is not sufficient to make a real dent in the unemployment and other problems caused by the recession.  And storm clouds are on the horizon, in Europe, in the US and elsewhere around the world.  Women and families are suffering, and the support provided by the Y and its partners, including the MGH, will be increasingly vital.  Thank you all for being part of this luncheon to honor the important Women Achievers who bring hope and confidence to the ranks of women workers, and to support the important work of YWCA Boston.

[Cathy E. Minehan was the first female Chief Executive Officer of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, and held that position from 1994 to 2007. She is currently the dean of the School of Management at Simmons College]

Cathy Minehan Delivers Keynote Speeches at Women’s Leadership Events



Linnie McLean Sylvia Ferrell Jones Cathy Minehan Kathy Murphy resized 600

Photo Caption: Linnie McLean, Co-Chair, YWCA Boston Board of Directors; Sylvia Ferrell-Jones, YWCA Boston President and CEO; SOM Dean Cathy Minehan; Kathy Murphy, Co-Chair, YWCA Boston Board of Directors.

 (reposted from Simmons College)

Simmons School of Management Dean Cathy Minehan delivered two keynote speeches at women’s leadership events this spring, shining light on the challenges facing women leaders today and the steps that need to be taken to empower women for success.
“We face very real challenges in realizing the dreams all of us had 40 years ago for women succeeding in the work place,” Minehan said. “It is a hard and continuing task, and one that deserves constant attention by both the women who want to succeed and the businesses who want them to be successful.”

At the Brown Brothers Harriman (BBH) Women Leaders Program May 23 at Simmons, Minehan reflected on her career as the first female president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, and shared some lessons learned along the way. Among them: don’t worry if you haven’t perfected the “work life balance,” form supportive relationships with women peers in other fields, embrace change, and never underestimate the power of sheer luck.

“In my experience, thinking that you can plot every step is foolish,” Minehan said. “I have always concentrated on doing the best job that I can at the task at hand, viewing it as broadly as I can, and working to be a leader among my peers. Then I let luck, or providence, or serendipity, or whatever you might want to call it, take its course.”

Today, women continue to earn less money than men in identical positions, despite making up a majority of the graduate student population. Groups such as BBH that bring women together for both networking and education are now more important than ever, Minehan noted. The May event hosted by Simmons featured an array of panelists and table discussions facilitated by leadership experts.

On June 4, Minehan joined the YWCA of Greater Boston to celebrate women leaders at the 18th Annual Academy of Women Achievers Celebration Luncheon, where she delivered the keynote address. Minehan was inducted into the Academy of Women Achievers in 1996.
“We are pleased to have Cathy serve as our keynote speaker. She is a true inspiration, living proof that no dream is too large, and no job unattainable,” said Sylvia Ferrell-Jones, President and CEO of YWCA Boston.
At the luncheon, the following five women were inducted into the Academy of Women Achievers:
  • Deborah Barnard, Partner, Holland & Knight
  • Yvonne Garcia, Director of Segment Marketing, Liberty Mutual Group
  • Crystal Johnson, Founder and Principal, Integrative Sustainability & Environment Solutions (ISES)
  • Mary Mazzio, Founder and CEO, 50 EGGS, Inc.
  • Jean Russell, Founder and President, BenefitsMart

Women’s Empowerment and Racial Justice – What’s the Link?



The mission of YWCA Boston is boldly stated:  eliminating racism, empowering women.   Many ask about the connection between these two goals.  It’s simple.  YWCA’s foremothers realized that they could not empower ­all women as long as racism exists.

The long racial justice history of YWCA is not well known, but dates back to the 19th century.  Early leaders noticed that African women (as they were then known) and other non-white women (e.g. Irish and Italians) had even greater struggles than poor white women.  Leadership wisely decided that the cause of helping women should not be exclusive, but expansive.  In 1889, the first African American YWCA branch opened in Dayton, OH and in 1890, the first YWCA for Native American women opened at the Haworth Institute in Chilocco, OK. 

Given Boston’s history and image, it surprises many to learn that Boston was one of only two YWCAs in ­the north to never have a separate, segregated branch for women of color, but included all women from its beginning in 1866.  In light of Boston’s status as a hotbed of the abolitionist movement, it makes sense that YWCA leaders reflected the belief that advocacy for the rights of all women was a noble cause.

Racial justice initiatives were significant in the work of YWCAs before the civil rights movement of the 1960s.  In 1934, members were encouraged to speak out against lynching and mob violence and to work for interracial cooperation and efforts to protect African American’s basic rights.  In 1942, YWCA extended its services to Japanese American women and girls incarcerated in World War II relocation centers.  The 1949 national convention pledged that YWCA would work for integration and full participation of minority groups in all phases of American life.

The link between women’s empowerment and racial justice continues in the 21st century.  YWCA Boston’s health education and outreach programs for women and girls are aimed at reducing racial and ethnic disparities in health outcomes.  Our Community Dialogues and Youth/Police Dialogues programs are designed not only to increase understanding and build connections between people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds, but also to change attitudes and behaviors, making Boston a better place for all of its residents.

YWCA Boston is moving toward its vision of peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all.  That’s a cause worth fighting for and I invite you to join us in our efforts by volunteering your time or contributing resources.


Sylvia Ferrell-Jones

Sylvia Ferrell-Jones is President & CEO of YWCA Boston.

YWomen's Advocacy Alert: Help YWCA Ratify CEDAW



Time and time again President Obama has declared his support for women worldwide and announced that the ratification of the CEDAW – the Women’s Rights Treaty – was an important priority.  Now we need him to show leadership in advancing women and girls’ rights around the world. 

As women and men who believe in the basic rights of women and girls worldwide – the right to live free from violence, the ability to go to school, and access to the political system – we need President Obama to send a strong and urgent signal to the Senate that ratification of CEDAW is vital.

We are within striking distance of CEDAW ratification, but the window of opportunity is closing, and fast.  We cannot allow the United States to continue to be one of only 7 countries in the world that has not ratified CEDAW. 

We know that CEDAW works. Several countries, including Australia, Brazil, Morocco, South Africa, and Uganda have incorporated provisions in the CEDAW treaty into their constitutions and domestic legal codes.  Additionally, Egypt, Jordan, Nicaragua, and Pakistan have all seen significant increases in literacy rates after improving access to education for girls and women.  

Please click here to tell President Obama that the women and girls of the world can’t wait any longer – we need CEDAW now!                                         



It's Not A "Happy Mother's Day" Everywhere



Here's a chance to help U.S. Senators do more than give flowers this Mother's Day. Ask them to support women's rights worldwide!

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) is a human rights treaty that addresses physical, sexual, economic, and political abuses against women and promotes women's equality of rights and well-being. It is regarded as the most important international mechanism for women's equality, as it holds that basic human rights for women should be universal across cultures and religions.

CEDAW has been ratified by 186 countries. Shockingly, the United States is not one of them. This holiday weekend, while we celebrate our own mothers and grandmothers, let's stand together for women and girls around the world. Join with YWCAs around the country to urge members of the United States Senate to take action on CEDAW. Click here for a quick and easy way to do so.

Honor Thy Mother



How are we shaped by the women - grandmothers, mothers, aunts - who raised us? Did a woman who cared for you instill in you a sense of possibility and hope for the future? Did she make sacrifices in her own life to help you succeed in yours? Did she hope that you would tend to the needs of the next generation as she did?

At Mother's Day, please consider honoring one or more of the special women in your life who worked to make your world brighter by supporting YWCA Boston's generations-long pursuit of peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all.

Much like our mothers and grandmothers, YWCA Boston has "planted trees that give shade" to future generations: Our mission of eliminating racism and empowering women has remained our core focus, but has been approached by each generation of YWCA Boston supporters in new ways, as we come closer to seeing that vision truly flower.

Since the 1800's we've provided integrated recreation. lodging, housing and meeting spaces for Boston women. Today, we facilitate interracial dialogues on race and ethnicity throughout the city, provide targeted health and wellness education with the aim of reducing health disparities and provide financial literacy workshops to young women just starting out on their own.

With your support, women tomorrow will have even better opportunities and face fewer barriers than women today. Consider a gift of $100, $250, or whatever you think is right and we will gladly send a beautiful YWCA Boston-designed card to let that woman who is special to you know you are honoring her with a gift that empowers other women with same sense of possibility that she instilled in you. Thank you!

Join Us Today in Telling Congress: Women Are A Priority



Today is  YWCA USA Capitol Hill Day and YWCA advocates from Boston and across the country are in Washington to speak up for women and families. Please join us today as we tell Congress: Make Women and their Families a Priority! 

Action: Call your member of Congress toll-free at (202)224-3121. You will have to make three calls: one to your Representative and one to each of your Senators. To find the names of your elected officials click here.

My name is _________ and I am a constituent. I am calling to urge the Representative/Senator to support funding two vitally important programs that help women and children throughout our state; transitional housing programs and child care.
I am asking the Representative/Senator to support fully funding the transitional housing program for domestic violence victims at $40 million. I am also asking the Representative/Senator to support $1.6 billion for the Child Care Development Block Grant.  As your constituent, I believe that though these are tight fiscal times, now is not the time to cut back on funding these vital programs. Thank you.
President Obama released his Fiscal Year 2011 (FY2011) budget on February 1s. The President’s FY11 budget proposed providing $629.1 million or programs that help survivors of violence and their families and $25 million, specifically, for the transitional housing program, which is $7 million above the Fiscal Year 2010 level of $18 million.

While the YWCA USA supports the President's request, as service providers we recognize that more funding is necessary to address unmet need. YWCA Boston for example retains more than 20 transitional housing units for single women, with no direct governmental support, with financial subsidies coming from other YWCA resources. We are urging Congress to fully fund this program at $40 million.

The President’s budget request also proposed providing $1.6 billion for the Child Care Development Block Grant or CCDBG. While YWCA Boston has not provide childcare services in this century, we strongly support funding for these initiatives because we know that these programs are a crucial investment the lives of women and children throughout our nation. Please join with us as well call on Congress to follow the President’s lead and commit to funding these vital programs.

To learn more about transitional housing and child care programs click here.

In Memoriam: Godmother of the Women's Movement



Farewell, Dr. Dorothy Height
"godmother of the women's movement"
YWCA leader
March 24, 1912-April 20, 2010

Dorothy Irene Height, long-time civil rights activist, chair and president emerita of the National Council of Negro Women, and prominent figure in YWCA leadership for decades, died of natural causes at 3:41 a.m., Tuesday, April 20, 2010 at Howard University Hospital, nearly a month after her 98th birthday.

Height was born in Richmond, Va., and moved to the Pittsburgh area when she was four. She earned bachelor's and master's degrees from New York University, having been turned away by Barnard College because it already had its "quota of two black women." She did postgraduate work at Columbia University and the New York School of Social Work.

In 1933, Height was an organizer and served as Vice President of the United Christian Youth Movement of North America in the New Deal era. It was during this period that her career as a civil rights advocate began to unfold, as she worked to prevent lynching, desegregate the armed forces, reform the criminal justice system and for free access to public accommodations. She was chosen as one of ten American youth delegates to the World Conference on Life and Work of the Churches in Oxford, England.

She joined the YWCA in 1937, serving as Assistant Executive Director at the Harlem YWCA. Her advocacy for better working conditions for black domestic workers began to gain the attention of other prominent and likeminded women.

Height met famed educator Mary McLeod Bethune, the founder of the National Council of Negro Women, and first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who had come to speak at a meeting of Bethune's organization. Mrs. Bethune invited Height to join NCNW in her quest for women's rights to full and equal employment, pay, and education.
Height served a dual role as YWCA staff member and NCNW volunteer, integrating her training as a social worker and her commitment to rise above the limitations of race and sex. She rose quickly through the ranks of the YWCA, from the Emma Ransom House in Harlem to Executive Director of the Phyllis Wheatley Association in Washington, DC, and then to the staff of the National Board of the YWCA of the USA.

For thirty-three years (1944-1977), Height held several leadership positions in Public Affairs and Leadership Training and as Director of the National YWCA School for Professional Workers. In l952, Height served as visiting professor at the University of Delhi, India, in the Delhi School of Social Work, which was founded by the YWCAs of India, Burma and Ceylon. She became known for her internationalism and humanitarianism, and conducted international studies and travel to expand the work of the YWCA.

She influenced the YWCA to be involved in civil rights beginning in the 1960s, and worked within the YWCA to desegregate all levels of the organization. In 1965, she was inaugurated and became Director of the Center for Racial Justice, a position she held until her retirement. One of Height's favorite sayings was, ''If the time is not ripe, we have to ripen the time.'' She liked to quote 19th century abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who said that the three effective ways to fight for justice are to ''agitate, agitate, agitate.''

Height became president of the National Council of Negro Women in 1957 and held the post until 1997, when she was 85. She remained chairman of the group. ''I hope not to work this hard all the rest of my life,'' she said at the time. ''But whether it is the Council, whether it is somewhere else, for the rest of my life, I will be working for equality, for justice, to eliminate racism, to build a better life for our families and our children.''

Among her countless awards and citations are the Presidential Medal of Freedom, awarded to her by President Bill Clinton, and the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian and most distinguished award presented by the United States Congress, presented to her on her 92nd birthday in 2004 by President George W. Bush. Over the course of her lifetime, she received 36 honorary doctorate degrees from universities and colleges such as Tuskegee University, Spelman College, Pace University, Bennett College, Lincoln University, Harvard University, Howard University, Princeton University, New York University, Morehouse College, Meharry Medical College, and Columbia University.

Today, the Dorothy I. Height Award is the YWCA's highest honor. This award is presented to an individual whose efforts and contributions have been significant in the field of racial justice and have also had a national impact in the United States.

courtesy of YWCA Princeton

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