Black Women Oral History Project

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The Black Women Oral History Project consists of interviews with 72 African American women from 1976 to 1981, conducted under the auspices of the Schlesinger Library of Radcliffe College, now Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.[1]

Project background[edit]

Beginning in 1977, Ruth Edmonds Hill coordinated and devoted herself to the completion of the project and to creating awareness of the rich information contained in the transcripts. The project began with the goal of capturing the lives and stories of women of African descent, many already in their 70s, 80s and 90s.[2] On the recommendation of Dr. Letitia Woods Brown, professor of history at George Washington University, and with funding secured from the Rockefeller Foundation, the project began to address what Dr. Brown noted as inadequate documentation of the stories of African-American women in the Schlesinger Library and at other centers for research.[3]

The project sought a cross section of women who had made significant contributions to American society in the first half of the twentieth century. Many interviewees had professional careers in such fields as education, government, the arts, business, medicine, law and social work. Others combined care for their families with volunteer work at the local, regional, or national level. Most of the interviews explored topics such as family background, education and training, employment, voluntary activities, and family and personal life. The intention was to give the interviewee the opportunity to explore and reflect on the influences and events that shaped her life.


Among the participants were Melnea Cass, Zelma George, Dorothy Height, Queen Mother Moore, Rosa Parks, Esther Mae Scott, Muriel S. Snowden, and Dorothy West.

Volume 2 of the published work features conversations with Sadie Alexander, Elizabeth Barker, and Etta Moten Barnett.[4]

Volume 3 includes interviews with Juanita Craft, Alice Dunnigan, and Eva B. Dykes, while Volume 10 features Charleszetta Waddles, Dorothy West, and Addie Williams.[4]

All of the interviews are open for research with digitized materials, with the exception of the following: Merze Tate whose interview is not yet complete and five interviews that remain closed until 2027: Kathleen Adams, Margaret Walker Alexander, Lucy Miller Mitchell, Ruth Janetta Temple, and Era Bell Thompson.[3]

Name Year(s) Note[5]
Jessie Abbott 1977 Wife of Cleve Abbott; secretary to Margaret M. Washington, Jennie B. Moton,[6] and George W. Carver
Christia Adair 1977 Suffragist and civil rights worker
Frankie V. Adams[7] 1977 Atlanta-based educator, activist, and author
Kathleen Adams 1976, 1977 One of the first black supervisors in Atlanta's public schools
Frances M. Albrier 1977, 1978 Civil rights activist and community leader
Margaret Walker 1977 Poet and novelist
Sadie Alexander 1977 One of the first three black women in the United States ever to receive a Ph.D.
Elizabeth C. Barker 1976, 1977 One of the Cardozo Sisters;[8] granddaughter of Francis L. Cardozo; niece of Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller
Etta Moten 1985 Opera star and actress
Norma Boyd 1976 Educator, co-founder of Alpha Kappa Alpha
Melnea Cass 1977 Civil rights activist
May Chinn 1979 Physician
Juanita Craft 1977 Civil rights activist
Clara Dickson 1978 Mashpee, Massachusetts community activist
Alice Dunnigan 1977 Journalist
Alfreda Duster 1978 Social worker; daughter of Ida B. Wells
Eva Dykes 1977 One of the first three black women in the United States to receive a Ph.D.
Mae Eberhardt 1979 Trade unionist
Florence Edmonds 1980 Nurse and trainer of nurses
Lena Edwards 1977 Physician and educator; recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom
Dorothy Ferebee 1979 Obstetrician and civil rights activist
Minnie Fisher 1979 Teacher, lifelong resident of Mound Bayou, Mississippi
Katherine Flippin 1977, 1978 Head Start organizer
Virginia Gayton 1977 Granddaughter of Lewis G. Clarke,[9] on whom the character of George Harris is based in Uncle Tom's Cabin
Zelma George 1978 Musicologist, actress
Frances Grant 1977 Teacher at the Bordentown School and Fieldston School
Ardie C. Halyard 1978 Banker, first woman president of the Milwaukee NAACP
Pleasant Harrison 1979 Granddaughter of slave; craftswoman; built her own home
Anna A. Hedgeman 1978, 1979 Civil rights leader
Dorothy Height 1974, 1975, 1976 Educator and civil rights activist
Beulah Hester 1978 Boston social worker, graduate of Simmons College
May Hill 1978 social worker; wife of Daniel Hill, theologian at Howard University; mother of Daniel G. Hill
Margaret C. Holmes 1977 One of the Cardozo Sisters;[8] wife of Eugene C. Holmes, chairman of the philosophy department at Howard University
Clementine Hunter 1979 First black artist to exhibit at the New Orleans Museum of Art
Ellen S. Jackson 1978, 1979 Boston school desegregation pioneer
Fidelia Johnson 1976 Teacher; daughter of Grambling State University founder Charles P. Adams
Lois Mailou Jones 1977 Painter
Susie Jones 1977 Wife of Bennett College president David Dallas Jones,[10]
Virginia L. Jones 1978 Librarian and educator
Hattie Kelly 1976 Dean of women at the Tuskegee Institute; studied under Booker T. Washington
Maida S. Kemp 1977 Labor organizer
Flemmie Kittrell 1977 Nutrionist
Abna Lancaster 1978 Graduate of Shaw University; instructor at Livingstone College; daughter of Achimota College co-founder James Aggrey
Eunice R. Laurie 1977 Nurse and trainer of nurses
Catherine C. Lewis 1980 One of the Cardozo Sisters[8]
Inabel Lindsay[11] 1977 First dean of the Howard University School of Social Work
Miriam Matthews 1977 Librarian and historian
Eliza McCabe 1977 Clubwoman, music teacher, member of Woman's Christian Temperance Union
Lucy M. Mitchell 1977 Pioneer in early childhood education
Audley Moore 1978 Civil rights leader and black nationalist
Annie Nipson 1978 Domestic worker from North Carolina; migrant to the North
Rosa Parks 1978 Civil rights leader
Rucker Sisters 1977 Granddaughters of Georgia politician Jefferson Long
Esther Mae Scott[12] 1977 Singer, musician, and composer
Julia Smith 1978 Schoolteacher; donated hundreds of photographs to the Museum of Afro-American History
Muriel S. Snowden 1977 Founder of Freedom House
Olivia P Stokes[13] 1979 Educator; the first African-American woman to receive a doctorate in Religious Education
Ann Tanneyhill[14] 1978 Active in the National Urban League from 1930 to 1971
Merze Tate 1978, 1979 History professor at Howard University; expert on international relations
Ruth Temple 1978 First black women to practice medicine in California
Constance Thomas 1977 Dancer, American Negro Theatre performer, speech therapist
Era Bell Thompson 1978 Editor of Ebony magazine
Mary Thompson 1977 Massachusetts dentist, humanitarian, NAACP branch co-founder
Bazoline Usher[15] 1977 Teacher at Booker T. Washington High School; Georgia Women of Achievement inductee
Charleszetta Waddles 1980 Activist, Pentecostal minister, and humanitarian
Dorothy West 1978 Harlem Renaissance writer; friend of Langston Hughes, Claude McKay, and others
Addie Williams 1977, 1978 Schoolteacher; daughter of slaves
Frances H. Williams[16] 1977 Civil rights activist
Ozeline Wise 1978 Linotype operator; sister of Satyra Bennett, a Cambridge civic leader
Deborah Wolfe 1979 Educator, author, president of the National Alliance of Black School Educators
Arline Yarbrough 1977 Clubwoman; founder of a black historical society


The interviews were recorded on audiotape and transcribed and each interviewee was given an opportunity to edit and correct the transcript prior to the final printing. Both the transcripts and audiotapes have been archived and preserved at the Schlesinger Library. Copies of these materials are also held in the Sophia Smith Collection at Smith College and include the published guide to the transcripts; also the summary of each woman's life and highlights of topics from their interviews, as well as an index.[17] Furthermore, the interviews and transcripts have been digitized and are available from the Schlesinger Library collection Black Women Oral History Project finding aid.

Related projects[edit]

In 1981, Judith Sedwick offered to create portraits of a few of the interviewees, and later, with additional grant funding, photographed many more. The result is a collection of stunning photographs, which became a traveling exhibition, first shown in 1984 at the New York Public Library.[18] All of these photographs are also catalogued at Harvard's Visual Information Access (VIA) database and available to view as a collection under "Black Women Oral History".


  1. ^ Chamara J. Kwakye (2010). "Black Women Oral History Project". In Kofi Lomotey. Encyclopedia of African American Education. 1. SAGE Publications. pp. 104–105. ISBN 978-1-4522-6148-5.
  2. ^ Hill, Ruth Edmonds and Patricia Miller King, eds. (1989) The Black Women Oral History Project: A Guide to the Transcripts, p. iii.
  3. ^ a b Black Women Oral History Project Interviews; Finding Aid. OH-31, T-32/finding aid Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass. Retrieved 20 May 2013
  4. ^ a b Ruth Edmonds Hill; Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America (1 May 1991). The Black women oral history project: from the Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe College. Meckler. ISBN 978-0-88736-607-9. Retrieved 20 May 2013.
  5. ^ "Black Women Oral History Project: Inventory". Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe College.
  6. ^ Jones, Lu Ann (1998). "In Search of Jennie Booth Moton, Field Agent, AAA". Agricultural History. 72 (2): 446–458. JSTOR 3744392.
  7. ^ "Notable Kentucky African Americans Database: Adams, Florence V. "Frankie"". University of Kentucky Libraries.
  8. ^ a b c Carter, Linda M. (2006). "Cardozo Sisters". In Smith, Jessie Carney. Encyclopedia of African American Business, Volume 1. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 135–139. ISBN 9780313331107.
  9. ^ "Lewis G. Clarke: Harriet Beecher Stowe's Forgotten Hero".
  10. ^ "David Dallas Jones". The Journal of Negro History. 41 (2). 1956. JSTOR 2715589.
  11. ^ Syers, Maryann (2008). Mizrahi, Terry; Davis, Larry, eds. Encyclopedia of Social Work. OUP USA. p. 356. ISBN 9780195306613.
  12. ^ "Esther Mae Scott Dies, D.C. Singer, Composer". The Washington Post. October 17, 1979. Mrs. Scott, widely known as Mother Scott, was one of the last survivors of the great era of Mississippi blues singers.
  13. ^ McNeil, Genna Rae (2013). Witness: Two Hundred Years of African-American Faith and Practice at the Abyssinian Baptist Church of Harlem, New York. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. p. 193. ISBN 9780802863416.
  14. ^ Hill, Lisa Beth (1993). "Tanneyhill, Ann (Anna) Elizabeth". In Hine, Darlene Clark. Black Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, Volume 2. Carlson Pub. pp. 1139–1141. ISBN 9780926019614.
  15. ^ "Bazoline Estelle Usher". Georgia Women of Achievement. Archived from the original on March 11, 2016. Retrieved January 17, 2016.
  16. ^ "Notable Kentucky African Americans Database: Williams, Frances Harriet". University of Kentucky Libraries. Missing or empty |url= (help)
  17. ^ "Sophia Smith Collection, Collection number MS 414". Smith College. Retrieved 20 May 2013.
  18. ^ Sedwick, Judith. Women of courage: an exhibition of photographs based on the Black Women Oral History Project (1984), sponsored by the Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe College. Cambridge, Mass.: Radcliffe College, p 3-4.

External links[edit]