The Black Women’s Club Movement
The Black Women’s Club movement began in the 1890s as an alternative to the white women’s club movement which had begun in the mid-1800s, primarily as social, cultural, and educational gatherings for middle-class women. Black women, on the other hand, were more interested in organizing for social and political reform, and though the white women’s clubs also began shifting their activities to social reform, they were entirely segregated and black women were not allowed to join.
The hundreds of black women’s clubs across the country were eventually organized into the National Association of Colored Women in 1896, in response to the anti-lynching campaign of Ida B. Wells and the need for a more powerful national group. Through the NACW, thousands of clubwomen across the country devoted their efforts to a range of political, social, and economic reforms, including housing, education, health care, childcare, job training, wage equity, voter registration, and the anti-lynching campaign.
According to legal scholar Dorothy Roberts, the black women’s club movement’s approach to child welfare differed tremendously from the mainstream approach this country has adopted. Instead of the “punitive approach of the modern child welfare system,” the Black Women’s Club Movement had an entirely different understanding of how to build a social support system for children:
[T]hese women understood the relationship between the well-being of individual children and their group identity and social surroundings; they focused on improving the general welfare of children rather than responding to particular cases of child maltreatment; and they promoted children’s welfare by supporting, rather than punishing, mothers.”42
The majority of the black clubwomen were civil rights and women’s rights activists, and the clubs became a crucial vehicle for organizing around both issues. Some of the most famous women in U.S. history were clubwomen, including Ida B. Wells, Harriet Tubman, Anna Julia Cooper, Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin, and Mary McLeod Bethune.
When the NACW’s formed in 1896, their first president was Mary Church Terrell, and their motto, which remains to this day, was “Lifting As We Climb.”
“In the Quiet, Undisputed Dignity of My Womanhood”
At the Intersection of Race and Gender Hatred
The Illegitimacy of Devaluation
The Myth of Black Women’s “Withdrawal” From Labor After Slavery
19th Century African American Feminist Women