AAUW, NASPA to Honor Dorothy Height with Posthumous Award

June 02, 2010


Lisa Goodnight, goodnightl@aauw.org


Civil Rights Icon Was a Pillar in the Civil Rights and Women’s Rights Communities

WASHINGTON — Dorothy Height, who was chair and president emerita of the National Council of Negro Women until her death in April of this year, will be honored with the AAUW/NASPA Women of Distinction Award at the 2010 National Conference for College Women Student Leaders (NCCWSL). Janice Ferebee, director of the Bethune Program Development Center at the National Council of Negro Women, will accept the award. This year’s ceremony, which will take place at the University of Maryland, College Park, on Thursday, June 3, marks the 25th anniversary of the conference, which was established in 1985.

The 2010 Women of Distinction Awards pay tribute to leaders who have made extraordinary contributions in their professions or in their communities. In addition to Height, the following individuals will be honored:

    • Patti Solis Doyle, partner, Utrecht & Phillips, a Washington, D.C., law firm,and the first Hispanic woman to run a major U.S. presidential campaign
    • Christina Lagdameo, deputy director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders
    • Marie Tillman, founder and chair of the Pat Tillman Foundation
    • Nomfundo Walaza, chief executive officer, Desmond Tutu Peace Centre in Cape Town, South Africa

Along with the other 2010 Women of Distinction honorees, Height’s name will now be included in a prestigious group of more than 100 women who have been celebrated in conjunction with the National Conference for College Women Student Leaders.

Career, Leadership Spanned Decades
A pillar in the civil rights and women’s right communities, Height was often the lone woman at the table strategizing with world-renowned civil rights leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Whitney H. Young, A. Phillip Randolph, James Farmer, Roy Wilkins, and John Lewis.

President Barack Obama called her the “godmother of the civil rights movement and a hero to so many Americans.” She was an adviser to administrations from Roosevelt to Obama and received more than three dozen honorary degrees from universities and colleges.

Height, who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1994 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2004, faced discrimination as young woman. She won a scholarship to Barnard College in New York, only to be denied admission because the school had already fulfilled its quota of black students — two. She went to New York University instead, where she received a master’s degree in educational psychology. In 1980, she returned to Barnard to accept an apology and the college’s medal of distinction.

Height began her civil rights career in New York City, where she protested against lynching and advocated for judicial reforms. Eventually she joined the YWCA’s national staff and spearheaded a movement to integrate the organization. Through her work at the Harlem YMCA, she met human rights activists First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and educator Mary McLeod Bethune, who founded the National Council of Negro Women. In her memoir Open Wide the Freedom Gates, Height wrote: “Mrs. Bethune and Mrs. Roosevelt made me and countless others want to be like them. They represented a rare breed of true leaders at once heroic and humble.”

After World War II, Height became national president of the historically black sorority, Delta Sigma Theta. Under her leadership, the sorority established its first foreign chapter in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, funded a maternity ward in Nairobi, Kenya, and opened its first national headquarters in Washington, D.C.

She served as National Council of Negro Women’s president from 1957 to 1998. During Height’s tenure, she helped to organize “Wednesdays in Mississippi,” a program that brought together black and white women from the North and South for intercultural and interracial dialogue; created programs to address housing, teen parenting, and hunger issues; and established the Black Family Reunion Celebration in response to the negative publicity regarding “the vanishing black family” and a need to develop a positive, culturally based event that would celebrate the enduring strengths and traditional values of the African American family.

Until her death, Height remained the chair and president emerita of the National Council of Negro Women, whose mission is to lead, develop, and advocate for women of African descent as they support their families and communities.

2010 NCCWSL Events and Sponsors
As part of this year’s 25th anniversary celebration of the National Conference for College Women Student Leaders and its awards program, a special reception will be held for this year’s honorees. Several past honorees will attend this celebration, including Amy Richards, Soapbox: Speakers Who Speak Out, Inc.; Brigadier General Wilma L. Vaught, USAF, and president, Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation, Inc.; and Dorothy Gilliam, founder and director of the Prime Movers Media Program at the School of Media and Public Affairs, George Washington University.

The Ruth Z. Sweetser Honorary Fund and Prudential are platinum sponsors of the 2010 National Conference for College Women Student Leaders. Other conference sponsors include the University of Maryland, College Park, and The Princeton Review.

Since 1985, the National Conference for College Women Student Leaders has provided a platform to help thousands of college and university women to develop leadership skills, network with other student leaders, and interact with women who hold leadership positions. The conference is presented each June by AAUW and NASPA.


By:   |   June 02, 2010