WLE Growth Gurus

Dr. Dorothy Height, Former President
National Council of Negro Women
Vanguard Award Winner


For nearly half a century, Dorothy Irene Height has given leadership to the struggle for equality and human rights for all people. Her life exemplifies her passionate commitment for a just society and her vision of a better world.

Dorothy Height was born in Richmond, Virginia, March 24, 1912, and educated in the public schools in Rankin, Pennsylvania, a small town near Pittsburgh, where her family moved when she was four. Dorothy Irene Height established herself early as a dedicated student with exceptional oratorical skills. With a $1,000 scholarship for winning a national oratorical contest sponsored by the Elks and a record of scholastic excellence, she enrolled in New York University and earned the bachelor and master's degrees in four years. She did further postgraduate work at Columbia University and the New York School of Social Work.

Employed in many capacities by both government and social service associations, she is known primarily by her leadership role with the YWCA and the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW). While working as a caseworker for the New York Welfare Department, she was the first Black named to deal with the Harlem riots of 1935 and became one of the young leaders of the National Youth Movement of the New Deal era. It was during this period that Height's 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. But it was November 7, 1937 that was the turning point in the life of Dorothy Height who still remembers the day that changed her life. Mary McLeod Bethune, founder and president of the National Council of Negro Women, noticed the assistant director of the Harlem YWCA who was escorting Eleanor Roosevelt into an NCNW meeting. Height answered Mrs. Bethune's call for help and joined Bethune in her quest for women's rights to full and equal employment, pay and education.

This was the beginning of her dual role as YWCA staff and NCNW volunteer, integrating her training as a social worker and her commitment to rise above the limitations of race and sex.

Height quickly rose through the ranks of the YWCA, from the Emma Ransom House in Harlem to the Phyllis Wheatley Branch in Washington, D.C. By 1944 and until 1977, Height was a staff member of the National Board of the YWCA of the USA where she held several leadership positions. In these positions she assumed responsibility for developing leadership training activities for volunteers and staff as well as programs to promote interracial and ecumenical education. And in 1965 she inaugurated and became Director of the Center for Racial Justice, a position she held until 1977 when she retired from the National YWCA of the USA.

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