Dorothy Height

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Dorothy Height
Born Dorothy Irene Height
(1912-03-24)March 24, 1912
Richmond, Virginia, U.S.
Died April 20, 2010(2010-04-20) (aged 98)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Occupation Educator and social activist

Dorothy Irene Height (March 24, 1912 – April 20, 2010) was an American administrator and educator who worked as a civil rights and women's rights activist, specifically focused on the issues of African-American women, including unemployment, illiteracy, and voter awareness.[1] 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.[2]

Early life

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. In Rankin, she attended racially integrated schools. In high school, Height showed great talent as an orator. While in high school, Heights became socially and politically active, by participating in anti-lynching campaigns. While progressing in her skills as an orator, it took her to national oratory competition. Heights won the event, and in return she was awarded a college scholarship. 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]


Dorothy Height with Eleanor Roosevelt, 1960

Once graduating Heights took on various jobs serving poor communities around New York City. Although it was a dark time in the Depression Era, Height’s skills were much in demand. 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]

Dorothy Height with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, 2009.

American leaders regularly took her counsel, including First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.[clarification needed] Height encouraged President Dwight 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.[10]

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[11] a response to the infamous "Tuskegee Syphilis Study" and an international ethical touchstone for researchers to this day.

Later life

In 1990, Height, along with 15 other African Americans, formed the African-American Women for Reproductive Freedom.[12] 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 President Barack Obama on January 20, 2009, and was seated on the stage.[2]

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.[13]

Personal life and death

According to a family history DNA analysis performed by African Ancestry Inc.,[14] Height's maternal line has a root among the Temne people of modern-day Sierra Leone.[15] 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.[16] She was later buried at Fort Lincoln Cemetery in Colmar Manor, Maryland.[17]

Awards and honors

“I want to be remembered as someone who used herself and anything she could touch to work for justice and freedom. I want to be remembered as one who tried.” – Dorothy Height


External video
Dorothy Height's funeral service at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., April 29, 2010, C-SPAN
Presentation by Height on Open Wide the Freedom Gates: A Memoir at the National Book Festival, October 9, 2004, C-SPAN
External video
Booknotes interview with Height on Open Wide the Freedom Gates: A Memoir, August 3, 2003, C-SPAN
"Life and Career of Dorothy Height". July 20, 2001, C-SPAN
  1. ^ "Dorothy Height." 2013. The Biography Channel website. March 14, 2013, 08:53.
  2. ^ a b c d Iovino, Jim (April 20, 2010). "Civil Rights Icon Dorothy Height Dies at 98". NBC Universal. Retrieved April 20, 2010.
  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. ^ a b "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 April 20, 2010.
  6. ^ Dr. Dorothy I. Height: Chair and President Emerita, National Council of Negro Women Archived June 18, 2012, at the Wayback Machine., National Council of Negro Women. 75th Anniversary. Retrieved May 29, 2012.
  7. ^ a b Height, Dorothy (2003). Open Wide the Freedom Gates: A Memoir. New York: PublicAffairs Press. ISBN 978-1-58648-286-2.
  8. ^ Evans, Ben (April 20, 2010). "Dorothy Height, civil rights activist, dies at 98". Associated Press. Retrieved April 20, 2010.
  9. ^ Farmer, James. Lay Bare the Heart. Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press. p. 215. ISBN 9780875651880. Retrieved September 22, 2014.
  10. ^ Height, Dorothy. (March 20, 1965). "A Woman's World," column. New York Amsterdam News, p. 8 ff.
  11. ^ "The Belmont Report", U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.
  12. ^ Kathryn Cullen-DuPont (August 1, 2000). Encyclopedia of Women's History in America. Info base Publishing. p. 6. ISBN 978-0-8160-4100-8. Retrieved February 4, 2012.
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ Haynes, V. Dion (September 10, 2006). "DNA test points to tribes of their past". Washington Post.
  15. ^ Dr. Height African Ancestry Reveal. on YouTube
  16. ^ "Dorothy Height, U.S. Civil Rights Leader, Buried". The Epoch Times. Archived from the original on September 13, 2012. Retrieved April 30, 2010.
  17. ^ "Dorothy I. Height". National Park Service. Washington, D.C.: United States Department of the Interior. Retrieved March 8, 2018.
  18. ^ "CANDACE AWARD RECIPIENTS 1982-1990, Page 1". National Coalition of 100 Black Women. Archived from the original on March 14, 2003.
  19. ^ The Heinz Awards, Dorothy Height profile
  20. ^ National Winners, Jefferson Awards.
  21. ^ Asante, Molefi Kete (2002). 100 Greatest African Americans: A Biographical Encyclopedia. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books. ISBN 1-57392-963-8.
  22. ^ "The 2009 Health Policy Heroes and Foremother Awards". Archived May 14, 2011, at the Wayback Machine. National Research Center for Women & Families. Retrieved December 5, 2010.
  23. ^ The Southwester, June 2010.
  24. ^ Kashmira Gander (March 24, 2014). "Google Doodle US marks Dorothy Irene Height's birthday". The Independent. Retrieved March 25, 2014.
  25. ^ 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.
  26. ^ Charlotte Alter (March 24, 2014). "Google Doodle Honors Dorothy Height, Unsung Leader in Civil Rights and Women's Movements". Time. Retrieved March 25, 2014.
  27. ^
External video
"Dorothy Height Oral History Interview" for the University of Virginia's "Explorations in Black Leadership" project, December 9, 2003, C-SPAN
External video
Booknotes interview with Height on Open Wide the Freedom Gates: A Memoir, August 3, 2003, C-SPAN
Presentation by Height on Open Wide the Freedom Gates: A Memoir at the National Book Festival, October 9, 2004, C-SPAN


  • 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, New York: Macmillan, 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
  • National Council for Science and the Environment
  • Dorothy Height - Daily Telegraph obituary, April 21, 2010
  • African Events Congressional Gold Medal Award for Dorothy Height
  • Dorothy Height's oral history video excerpts, The National Visionary Leadership Project
  • Dorothy Height's Videos
  • Legacy: Black and White in America, a documentary featuring Dorothy Height
  • Flag Half-Staff Day Order by President Barack Obama
  • Dorothy Height (1912–2010): Civil Rights Leader Remembered for Lifelong Activism- video report by Democracy Now!
  • Dorothy I. Height, Unsung Heroine

External links

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