Dorothy Irene Height (March 24, 1912 – April 20, 2010) an American administrator and educator, was a civil rights and women’s rights activist specifically focused on the issues of African-American women, including unemployment, illiteracy, and voter awareness. 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.
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. She served as national president of the sorority from 1946 to 1957.
In 1957, Height was named president of the National Council of Negro Women, a position she held until 1997. During the height of the civil rights movement of the 1960s, she organized “Wednesdays in Mississippi,” 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 leaderJames 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.
American leaders regularly took her counsel, including First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. 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, 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 Bio Medical and Behavioral Research, which published the Belmont Report a response to the infamous “Tuskegee Syphilis Study” and an international ethical touchstone for researchers to this day.
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