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Teaching Eleanor Roosevelt Glossary

[picture: ER receiving Human Rights award from Dorothy Height, New York, Nov. 1960]  Founded by Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune in 1935, the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) played an important role in the struggle for human and civil rights. As the largest and most enduring organization of and for African American women, the NCNW organized a nationwide network of African American women's organizations and pushed them "to collect, interpret, and disseminate information" about African American women's activities. Frustrated by the glut of comparable organizations that were either all white or predominantly white, Bethune sought a larger voice for herself and her associates in the national discussion. She encouraged NCNW's members "to develop competent and courageous leadership among Negro women and effect their integration and that of all Negro people into the . . . life of their communities." (1)

The NCNW rapidly emerged as a politically potent force. NCNW magazine, African Woman's Journal, urged members to organize to support "the outlawing of the Poll Tax, the development of a Public Health Program, an Anti-lynching Bill, the end of discrimination in the Armed Forces, Defense Plants, Government Housing Plans and finally that Negro History be taught in the Public Schools."(2) Under Bethune's deft leadership, the NCNW joined with other major civil rights organizations to address racial and gender discrimination in New Deal and wartime policies and press for the establishment of the Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC). In 1944 the organization presented the White House with a list of African American women qualified to represent the U.S. at international conferences. In 1945, Dr. Bethune, as a delegate to the international conference charged with designing the United Nations, assisted in drafting the UN Charter. The following year, the UN approved the NCNW's application to become an official non-governmental organization (NGO) member.

By 1960, the NCNW had shifted its primary focus to housing. Under the leadership of Dr. Dorothy Height, it helped integrate public housing in the Northeast and sponsored several home-ownership programs for low-income families in the South. As the calls for civil rights grew louder through the 1960s, the NCNW remained actively engaged in voter registration, education campaigns, lobbying efforts, as well as in a variety of programs to provide social services and economic relief. The NCNW remains an important center for research and advocacy on behalf of black women to this day.

ER and Bethune became close friends; as ER once wrote, the NCNW leader was "the closest friend in my own age group."(3) From the NCNW's birth until ER's death, ER lent her unqualified, heartfelt support to the NCNW as fundraiser, public spokesperson, lobbyist and as honorary chair of the council.


  1. The Reader's Companion to American History (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1991), 97.
  2. Ibid., 97.
  3. Eleanor Roosevelt, "Some of My Best Friends are Negro." Ebony 8 (February 1953),