National Association of Colored Women's Clubs

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National Association of Colored Women's Clubs Emblem

The National Association of Colored Women Clubs (NACWC) is an American organization that was formed in July 1896 at the First Annual Convention of the National Federation of Afro-American Women in Washington, D.C., USA, by a merger of the National Federation of African-American Women, the Women's Era Club of Boston, and the National League of Colored Women of Washington, DC, at the call of Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin.[1] From 1896 to 1954 it was known as the National Association of Colored Women (NACW). It adopted the motto "Lifting as we climb", to demonstrate to "an ignorant and suspicious world that our aims and interests are identical with those of all good aspiring women."[2]


The Association was established in Washington, D.C., on July 21, 1896, during the First Annual Convention of the National Federation of Afro-American Women held at the Nineteenth Street Baptist Church. At this convention, the National Federation of African-American Women, the Women's Era Club of Boston, and the National League of Colored Women of Washington, DC, as well as smaller organizations that had arisen from the African-American women's club movement, merged to form the National Association of Colored Women. The organization helped all African-American women by working on issues of civil rights and injustice, such as women’s suffrage, lynching, and Jim Crow laws.

Founders of the NACWC included Harriet Tubman, Margaret Murray Washington,[3] Frances E.W. Harper, Ida Bell Wells-Barnett, and Mary Church Terrell. Its two leading members were Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin and Mary Church Terrell. Their original intention was "to furnish evidence of the moral, mental and material progress made by people of color through the efforts of our women". They organized to refute a letter written by James Jacks, the president of the Missouri Press Association, challenging the respectability of African-American women, and referring to them as thieves and prostitutes.[4]

During the next ten years, the NACWC became involved in campaigns in favor of women's suffrage and against lynching and Jim Crow laws. They also led efforts to improve education, and care for both children and the elderly. By 1918, when the United States entered the First World War, membership in the NACWC had grown to an extraordinary 300,000 nationwide.

Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin and Mary Church Terrell[edit]

That the National Association of Colored Women was the most prominent organization formed during the African-American Woman Suffrage Movement was due chiefly to the efforts of Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin and Mary Church Terrell. Both women were educated and had economically successful parents.

Born on August 31, 1842, in Boston, Josephine St. Pierre was the daughter of John St. Pierre, a successful clothes dealer from Martinique and Elizabeth Matilda Menhenick from Cornwall, England. Her parents supported her going to school in Salem for its integrated schools, rather than attend segregated ones in Boston. There Josephine St. Pierre flourished. At the age of 16, she married George Lewis Ruffin, who became the first African-American graduate of Harvard Law School. Among their early activities was recruiting black soldiers for the Union Army during the Civil War.

National Association of Colored Women headquarters in Washington, D.C.

After her husband died in 1886, Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin used part of her estate to fund Woman’s Era, the first journal published by and for African-American women. She was a vice-president of the National Association of Colored Women. In 1910 Ruffin enlarged her social activism by helping form the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). She died in March 1924.

Mary Church Terrell was the daughter of Robert Church, Sr., a former slave and reputed son of a white master. Church, Sr. built a business and became one of the wealthiest black men in the South. He was able to send Mary to Oberlin College, where she earned both bachelor's and master's degrees. Years later Mary Church Terrell spoke at the Berlin International Congress of Women, giving her speech in fluent German and French, as well as English. She was the only black woman at the conference.

Terrell was elected as the first president of the National Association of Colored Women in 1896. She led the struggle in Washington, DC against segregation in public eating places and succeeded in winning a court decision for integration there. Terrell died in Annapolis, Maryland, on July 24, 1954.

NACWC objectives[edit]

  1. To work for the economic, moral, religious and social welfare of women and youth.
  2. To protect the rights of women and youth.
  3. To raise the standard and quality of life in home and family.
  4. To secure and use our influence for the enforcement of civil and political rights for African Americans and all citizens.
  5. To promote the education of women and youth through the work of the departments.
  6. To obtain for African American women the opportunity of reaching the highest levels in all fields of human endeavor.
  7. To promote effective interaction with the male auxiliary.
  8. To promote inter-racial understanding so that justice and good will may prevail among all people.
  9. To hold educational workshops biennially at the Convention.


  • Mary Church Terrell — 1st President (1896–1900)
  • Josephine Silone Yates — 2nd President (1900–04)
  • Lucy Thurman — 3rd President (1904–08)
  • Elizabeth Carter Brooks — 4th President (1908–12)
  • Margaret James Murray (Mrs. Booker T. Washington) – 5th President (1912–16)
  • Mary B. Talbert — 6th President (1916–20)
  • Miss Hallie Q. Brown – 7th President (1920–24)
  • Mary McLeod Bethune — 8th President (1924–28)
  • Mrs. Sallie Wyatt Stewart – 9th President (1928–33)
  • Dr. Mary F. Waring – 10th President (1933–37)
  • Mrs. Jennie B. Moton – 11th President (1937–41)
  • Mrs. Ada Belle Dement – 12th President (1941–45)
  • Mrs. Christine S. Smith – 13th President (1945–48)
  • Dr. Ella P. Stewart – 14th President (1948–52)
  • Irene McCoy Gaines – 15th President (1952–58)
Irene M. Gaines[5]
  • Dr Rosa L. Gragg – 16th President (1958–64)
  • Mamie B. Reese – 17th President (1964–68)
  • Myrtle Ollison – 18th President (1968–72)
  • Juanita W. Brown — 19th President (1972–76)
  • Inez W. Tinsley – 20th President (1976–80)
  • Otelia Champion – 21st President (1980–84)
  • Myrtle E. Gray – 22nd President (1984–88)
  • Dolores M. Harris – 23rd President (1988–92)
  • Savannah C. Jones — 24th President (1992–96)
  • Patricia L. Fletcher — 25th President (1996–2002)
  • Margaret J. Cooper — 26th President (2002–06)
  • Dr. Marie Wright Tolliver - 27th President (2006–10)
  • Evelyn Rising - 28th President (2010-14)
  • Sharon R. Bridgeforth - 29th President (2014-present)[6]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ "Who Are We", NACWA.
  2. ^ "National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs (NACWC)", Encyclopædia Britannica.
  3. ^ "Margaret Murray Washington". Retrieved 2014-02-27. 
  4. ^ Deborah Gray White, Too Heavy a Load: Black Women in Defense of Themselves, 1894-1994, W.W. Norton & Co., 1999.
  5. ^ Taylor, Julius F. "The Broad Ax". Illinois Digital Newspaper Collections. Retrieved 18 June 2015. 
  6. ^ "Roster of Officers", NACWA.

External links[edit]