Very few people can count themselves as one of the most influential, sought after and impactful activists that our country has ever had the privilege to experience. At 98 years young, Dorothy Irene Height is exactly one of those of very few people.
Dorothy was born in Richmond, Virginia to James Edward Height, a building contractor, and Fannie Burroughs Height, a nurse. While still young, Dorothy’s parents moved her and their blended family to Rankin, Pennsylvania looking for better opportunity for her father’s private contracting business. While the move proved to be beneficial for her father, hospitals in the area would not accept her mother as a black nurse, so she focused her attention on caring for their home and no doubt encouraging the success of her children. Dorothy attended an integrated school and, not surprisingly, excelled in her studies and as a member of her school’s debate team. Dorothy showed early on that she was a natural born leader. On her own she took the initiative to teach Bible stories to the white children at her local Christian Center. She was also the president of the local YWCA Girls Reserve Club where she vigilantly challenged segregated swimming pool policies in Pittsburgh.
It was Dorothy’s oratory skills during a national contest where she spoke about slavery amendments to the U.S. Constitution that won her a scholarship to Barnard College. However, upon her arrival to enroll she was denied entrance. At the time the quota for black students to attend the school was two per academic year and Dorothy arrived after two black students already enrolled. As such, she chose to attend New York University where she received both her bachelors and masters degrees in psychology.
After graduating Dorothy worked for the New York Welfare Department as a welfare caseworker during the time of the 1935 Harlem riots. She asserted herself as a young voice and leader to be reckoned with in her community by volunteering with the National Youth Movement and serving as the assistant director of the Harlem YWCA. It wouldn’t be long before she stepped into the role of civil rights activist when she joined the National Council of Negro Women and fought for equal rights for black people and women. Her commitment to fighting for women rights and advancing the causes of black people continued when she served as the National President of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. Following this prestigious role in 1957, she served as president of the National Council of Negro Women, a position she held until 1997.
Dorothy’s history of involvement for this country spans way more than a blog article can capture. She’s been a consultant on African affairs to the Secretary of State, is currently Chairperson of the Executive Committee of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (the largest civil rights organization in the US), and has received numerous awards including an induction into the National Women’s Hall of Fame. She has used her life to leave an indelible imprint on this nation’s past, present and future. We wish our esteemed soror a speedy recovery.