The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow A Century of Segregation
Jim Crow Stories
A National Struggle
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Jim Crow Stories

Introduction People Narratives Events Organizations

National Association for Colored Women Founded: C.1896

In response to a vicious attack on the character of African-American women by a Southern journalist, combined with the spread of disfranchisement, lynching, and segregation, and the desire to "uplift" the race, black women organized a club movement that led to the formation of the National Association of Colored Women (NACW) in Washington, D.C. in 1896.
The organization's founders included some of the most renowned African-American women educators, community leaders, and civil-rights activists in America, including: Harriet Tubman, Frances E.W. Harper, Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin, Margaret Murray Washington, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, and Mary Church Terrell, who became the organization's first president. Mary Church Terrell
The NACW adopted the motto "Lifting as We Climb." Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin set the tone when she announced that black women have to present a positive image of the race to the world.

"Too long have we been silent under unjust and unholy charges; we cannot expect to have them removed until we disprove them through ourselves."
Women sewing
A woman at work
The NACW wanted to improve the lives of impoverished African Americans. Terrell stated in her first presidential address in 1897, "The work which we hope to accomplish can be done better, we believe, by the mothers, wives, daughters, and sisters of our race than by the fathers, husbands, brothers, and sons." Her agenda for the organization focused on job training, wage equity, and child-care. The NACW also called public attention to issues such as lynching, peonage, prison conditions, and segregated transportation.

The organization helped women and children suffering from poor health, lack of education, decent clothing, and housing. It raised funds for kindergartens, vocational schools, summer camps, and homes for the elderly. It also adopted an elitist attitude saying, that it was the responsibility of "privileged" to help those who were "socially inferior"; some felt that the habits of poor blacks gave the race a bad name. The NACW not only supported the right of black men and women to vote, but supported the women's suffrage movement two years before the General Federation of Women's Clubs, a club organization for white women. The NACW helped mobilize voter registration drives for blacks on a local level. It also promoted cultural events, including music concerts and poetry readings. By 1916, the organization had 300 clubs as members. Its high point of activity was in the 1920s and 1930s, after which it began to decline.

-- Richard Wormser

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Historical Documents
An address by Mary Church Terrell
Read an address by Mary Church Terrell, president of the National Association of Colored Women, on the progress made by African-American women since Emancipation.
Related Pages
Ida B. Wells
W.E.B. Du Bois
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