Dorothy Irene Height was born on March 24, 1912, in Richmond, Virginia. Her mother was a nurse and her father worked as a building contractor. She was severely asthmatic and was not expected to live past the age of 16. When she was four years old, the family moved to Rankin, Pennsylvania. She grew up and remained there until she graduated from high school.
While attending high school, Height won an Elks scholarship for $1,000. With her scholarship, she was able to attend New York University. In only four short years, she earned her B.S. in Education and her M.S. in Educational Psychology. From there, she would embark on a long educational career.
After graduating college, Height began working as a caseworker in the New York City Welfare Department. She then began working for the YWCA. In working for the YWCA, she integrated all of the organization's centers in 1946. She also established the Center for Racial Justice in 1965 which lasted until 1977.
While working for the YWCA, Height met Mary McLeod Bethune, the founder of the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW). Height developed a close professional relationship with Bethune that lasted until Bethune's death. Shortly after Bethune's death, she became the president of the NCNW in 1957.
Civil Rights Movement
Because of her work with both the NCNW and the Center for Racial Justice, Height became one of the leading figures of the Civil Rights Movement. She worked with the Civil Rights Leaders who comprised the 'Big Six': Martin Luther King, Jr., A. Philip Randolph, Roy Wilkins, Whitney Young, John Lewis, and James Farmer.
Height helped organize the 1963 March on Washington. Despite her skills as an orator, however, she was not invited to speak that day. She realized that although her male counterparts included women in the struggle for civil rights, women were not deemed worthy of leadership roles. As a result, she co-founded the National Women's Political Caucus in 1971.
Height retired from the YWCA in 1977. She remained the president of the NCNW, however, for the next two more decades. In the 1980s, her primary focus was on rebuilding the Black family. She organized the first Black Family Reunion in 1986. This reunion served as a platform to celebrate traditions and values.
In the late 1990s and 2000s, Height received many honors. She was granted the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1994, the Congressional Gold Medal in 2004, and President Barack Obama referred to her as the 'Godmother of the Civil Rights Movement.' Dorothy Height died on April 20, 2010. She was 98 years old. She will always be remembered as a prominent leader in the fight for women's rights.
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