Portland State University. Department of History
Jim F. Heath
Date of Publication
Master of Arts (M.A.) in History
National Association of Colored Women
1 online resource. Digitized typescript
The National Association of Colored Women was formed in 1896, during a period when the Negro was encountering a great amount of difficulty in maintaining the legal and political rights granted to him during the period of reconstruction. As a result of this erosion· of power, some historians have contended that the Negro male was unable to effectively deal with the problems that arose within the Negro community. It was during this same period of time that the Negro woman began to assert herself in the affairs of her community. In the beginning, her work was done in conjunction with church groups and ladies auxiliaries to Negro male secret societies and fraternal organizations. In the 1890's, however, she began to form clubs of her own. This did not mean that the other organizational ties were severed, but rather that she added new priorities to her varied interests.
Generally speaking, the women who participated in these groups were middle class women who saw needs within the Negro community and attempted, with their limited resources, to alleviate the problems.
There were many clubs of Negro women formed during the period from 1890 to 1895, and there was a general feeling that unification of the clubs would be beneficial to the overall movement of Negro women. The major goal of the National Association of Colored Women was the uplift of the Negro race in all facets of life. The organization declared that it was not drawing the color line but that all clubs of women whose goal was to improve the life of the Negro were eligible to join. From the beginning, the goal that the National Association of Colored Women set up for itself was too broad in relation to membership and resources of the members. Instead of concentrating on one or two specific areas, such as kindergartens, reformatories for Negro youth, homes for the aged, or civil rights, the women divided their forces to such an extent that their effectiveness in dealing with the problems that plagued the Negro community was extremely limited. It is true that many fine examples of their dedication and unselfishness brought relief and in some cases institutions were established to aid their people, but more often than not the lack of unified efforts failed to produce the desired results. Besides the diffusion of goals, there was also the human factors of pettiness, un-co-operative spirit and a desire for self-recognition that disrupted the movement.
Later, with the formation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the N.A.A.C.P . , the National Urban League and other similar organizations dedicated to the improvement of the life of the Negro, the National Association of Colored Women lost much of its impact. In part this was caused by the limiting of the goals pursued by the new organizations. They concentrated their efforts on a few specific areas and refused to be distracted by a multiplicity of causes. Furthermore, the personnel of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the National Urban League were generally more professionally qualified to handle the problems that they attempted to solve.
The thesis is based largely upon original sources: memoirs, autobiographies of the founders of the N.A.C.W. and periodicals and newspapers published between 1890-1930.
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Tepedino, Therese C., "The Founding and Early Years of the National Association of Colored Women" (1977). Dissertations and Theses. Paper 2504.