Read the transcripts and listen to the audio files (when available) for the Black Women Oral History Project.
Noting that the stories of African-American women were inadequately documented in the Schlesinger Library and at other centers for research, Dr. Letitia Woods Brown, professor of history at George Washington University, recommended that the Schlesinger Library of Radcliffe College collect the oral memoirs of a selected group of older black women. These women, many already in their 70s, 80s, and 90s, had made substantial contributions to improving the lives of African-Americans and all people, through professional and voluntary activities, in their communities and nationally. With initial funding secured from the Rockefeller Foundation, staff at the Schlesinger Library, most importantly Ruth Hill, guided the Black Women Oral History Project, and from 1976 to 1981, 72 women from all over the United States were interviewed. The interviews discuss family background, marriages, childhood, education and training, significant influences affecting their choice of primary career or activity, professional and voluntary accomplishments, union activities, the ways in which being black and a woman had affected their options and the choices made.
Information about the interviewees and any access or use restrictions for the interviews are included in the entries in this guide. You can find additional information in the finding aids for the Black Women Oral History Project and the Biographical Files of the Black Women Oral History Project.
For information about the interviewees and any access or use restrictions for the interviews, see the finding aids for the Black Women Oral History Project and the Biographical Files of the Black Women Oral History Project.
Married to and worked with Cleve Abbott who trained black women Olympic champion runners, and developed golf, tennis, and other sports at Tuskegee Institute; secretary to Margaret Murray Washington, Jennie B. Moton, and Dr. George Washington Carver, all at Tuskegee Institute.
Community organizer, civic worker; active in working for equal rights for blacks and for women; served on board of Missions and Church Extension, United Methodist Church; executive secretary, Houston NAACP, for ten years; one of the first black precinct judges in Houston; Christia V. Adair Park dedicated in Houston in 1977 to celebrate Mrs. Adair's 84th birthday; honored on 54th anniversary of Women' s Suffrage, August 1974: "Her life is a history of the struggle of women and minorities in this society."
Teacher of community organization at Atlanta University School of Social Work; industrial secretary of YWCA in Chicago; director of day care center for children of migrant families in Maryland; with National Council of Negro Women.
Access Restrictions: Audiotapes are closed to research use until 2027.
Social worker, political and community leader; during World War II a welder and at same time volunteer with Red Cross, USO, day care, Visiting Nurse Association, and NAACP; Democratic Central Committeewoman, Alameda County, California, for 18 years; instrumental in eliminating discrimination in the hiring of teachers in the Berkeley schools; in 1954 received "Fight for Freedom Award" from NAACP.
Author, poet, teacher; author of Jubilee, For My People, and Prophets For a New Day; recipient of Yale Award for Younger Poets, 1942; professor of English, Jackson State University; member of Black Women Oral History Project Advisory Committee.
Access Restrictions: Audiotapes are closed to research use until 2027.
In 1921 (second in order of graduation) one of the first three black women in the United States ever to receive the Ph.D. degree; first black woman to earn a law degree from University of Pennsylvania; first woman to practice law in Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; second woman to hold position of Assistant City Solicitor in Philadelphia; secretary of National Urban League, New York City, for 25 years.
Opera star, actress in film and stage, concert singer; civic worker; wanted by George Gershwin for the first Bess in Porgy and Bess; concert tours in United States, Canada, Argentina, Brazil, England, Africa; member of United States official delegation to ceremonies in many African countries; head of nongovernmental delegation to International Women's Conference, Mexico City, 1975; trustee, African-American Institute; member of National Council for Community Services to International Visitors; member of Mayor's Commission on Human Relations (Chicago).
Retired public schoolteacher; one of the founders of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority; active in early lobbying organization, National Nonpartisan Council on Public Affairs; founder of Women's International Religious Fellowship.
Called "Roxbury's First Lady," "Roxbury's Elder Stateswoman"; active in NAACP (president, Boston branch 1962-1964); Board of Overseers of Public Welfare (Boston); affiliated with National Association of Colored Women's Clubs, YWCA, United Church Women; "Melnea Cass Day" proclaimed by mayor of Boston, May 22, 1966; Massachusetts State Mother of the Year, 1974.
First black woman to graduate from the Bellevue Hospital Medical College, New York; first black woman to serve as an intern at Harlem Hospital, and, for many years, the only black woman to practice medicine in Harlem; became interested in cancer research in the early 1940s, and in 1944 joined the staff of the Stang Clinic where she served for 29 years.
Worked with early NAACP activities in Dallas; at age 73, elected a member of the Dallas City Council; in 1969 received Linz Award, given to a Dallas citizen for outstanding community service; in 1970, delegate to White House Conference on Children and Youth.
First black woman journalist admitted to Congressional press galleries; White House correspondent; chief of Washington bureau, Associated Negro Press; author of A Black Woman's Experience: From Schoolhouse to White House.
Daughter of Ida B. Wells-Barnett; social worker with Illinois Youth Commission and other social work agencies; member of the YWCA, United Methodist Women; "Mother of the Year," 1950 and 1970; editor of Crusade for Justice: The Autobiography of Ida B. Wells.
Access Restrictions: Permission to quote from the transcript for publication is required from both Alfreda Duster's heirs and the Director of the Schlesinger Library.
In order of graduation in 1921, third of the first three black women in the United States to receive the Ph.D. degree; taught English literature at Howard University and Oakwood College; studied music from age five; has been pianist, organist, choir director.
Became involved in union activity as a laundry worker in the 1940s; served as shop steward for 12 years and was active in negotiations and grievances; as electronics worker, became part of the International Union of Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers where she was elected local president and served as chief negotiator; many other union positions.
Graduate of Lincoln Training School for Nurses, New York; worked for Henry Street Visiting Nurse Association in New York; after marriage she did not work until 1940s; taught first aid and home nursing for the Red Cross; worked for Pittsfield Visiting Nurse Association; health coordinator at the Berkshire Medical Center, Pittsfield; accountant and saleswoman.
Physician; practiced in New Jersey and Texas; professor, Howard University College of Medicine and Jersey City Medical Center; 1955 Woman Doctor of the Year, New Jersey branch of American Medical Women's Association.
Physician; graduate of Simmons College and Tufts University Medical School; medical director of the Howard University Health Services for 27 years, and assistant professor of preventive medicine at Howard University Medical School; served as medical director for seven summers of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Mississippi Health Project; medical consultant to the U.S. State Department; president of the National Council of Negro Women.
Oldest living native-born citizen of Mound Bayou; educated at Tougaloo College and taught in the public schools of Bolivar County; worked as librarian, town clerk, bookkeeper, and editor; active in civic affairs.
A cooperative interview with "Blacks in San Francisco Prior to 1945," an oral history project of the San Francisco Public Library and the San Francisco African-American Historical and Cultural Society. Educator; organized Head Start program in Pacifica, California, which served as a model for other such programs; special field of interest has been working with non-motor-handicapped children.
Worked for about two years as a dietician's aide in a hospital; worked 21 years in the U.S. Postal Service; a volunteer in civic and social activities such as YWCA, Urban League, NAACP, LINKS; her grandfather was the man upon whom Harriet Beecher Stowe based the character of George Harris in Uncle Tom's Cabin.
Musicologist, sociologist, actress, singer, writer; at various times opera singer, dean of women, case worker, probation officer; active in many areas of community, national, and international affairs; recipient of many awards and honors; alternate delegate to the United Nations; author of A Guide to Negro Music.
Retired bank executive; co-organizer with husband in 1925 of Columbia Savings and Loan Association; for 20 years personnel director of Goodwill Industries while serving as bookkeeper and secretary of Columbia; has also been secretary-treasurer, managing officer, chairperson of the board of Columbia; husband never drew salary; very active as community organizer and with NAACP in Wisconsin.
Grandfather was a slave; spent her youth picking cotton; direct line to crafts traditionally practiced by blacks in days of slavery; built her own home; used 120-year-old spinning wheel in demonstrations for schools and museums.
Historical Note: Social worker, educator, sociologist, active in civil rights; assistant to the administrator of the Federal Security Agency; author of The Trumpet Sound: A Memoir of Negro Leadership.
Active in civil rights; national president of National Council of Negro Women; director of Center for Racial Justice, YWCA; recipient of Distinguished Service Award of National Conference on Social Welfare.
Graduate of Simmons College School of Social Work; employed as a social worker in Boston for 30 years; established senior citizen groups in the Boston area; the first black person appointed to the Board of Overseers of the Department of Public Welfare in Boston.
Married to Reverend Daniel Hill, former chaplain of Howard University; earned M.S.W. degree from the University of California, Berkeley, and worked as a social worker both in California and in the District of Columbia.
In charge of training workers at Cardozo Hairstylists, established by her sister, Elizabeth Cardozo Barker (see above); husband a member of the philosophy department, Howard University, for 40 years. See also: Catherine Cardozo Lewis.
Painter; first black artist to exhibit in the New Orleans Museum; exhibited at the Museum of American Folk Art in New York City and at the Brooklyn Museum; two years of schooling; has spent all of her life on a plantation in the Cane River area of Louisiana working in the fields, and as maid and cook; in early 1940s began experimenting with paints left by a guest.
Founder of Operation-Exodus, forerunner of METCO program in Boston schools; alternate delegate, Democratic National Convention in 1968, and delegate in 1972; worked with Northern Student Movement, Head Start, Black Women's Community Development Foundation; many awards for political and other work.
Access Restrictions: Permission to quote from the transcript for publication is required both from Ellen Jackson's heirs and from the Director of the Schlesinger Library.
Teacher in rural schools of Louisiana; involved at local and national level in National Education Association and other teacher associations; her father was founder of Grambling State University, and she taught there for a while.
Professor of design and watercolor at Howard University; since 1937 has had many one-woman shows in the United States and abroad; in 1973, had a retrospective show at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts covering 40 years of her painting.
Access Restrictions: Permission to quote from the transcript for publication is required from both Lois Jones's heirs and the Director of the Schlesinger Library.
Widow of Dr. David Jones, president of Bennett College; active with women's groups in the Methodist Episcopal church. After her husband's death, the trustees elected her vice-president of the college. She asked to be elected registrar, a position she kept until the age of seventy three.
Director of School of Library Service, Atlanta University since 1945; has been member of President's Advisory Committee on Library Training and Research, and on the executive board of the American Library Association.
Active trade unionist; general organizer and member of International Ladies' Garment Workers Union; member of executive board AFL-CIO; international representative for Department of International Affairs, AFL-CIO; vice-president of the National Council of Negro Women.
Specialist in nutrition; chairperson, home economics department of Bennett College, Hampton Institute, and Howard University; founded School of Home Economics at Baroda University, Baroda, India; served on several nutrition assignments in Africa and India for the State Department and religious organizations; a United Nations observer and AID observer.
Attended Livingston College, Shaw University; taught 28 years as a teacher in the public high schools in Salisbury, 14 years at Livingstone; graduate work at Columbia University; father, a Ph.D. and teacher at Livingstone, was co-founder of Achimota College in Accra, Ghana.
Access Restrictions: No part of this transcript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of both Abna Lancaster's heirs and the Director of the Schlesinger Library.
Graduate of Tuskegee in nursing; nurse and public health worker in rural Alabama; worked as county demonstration agent, teaching home nursing and training midwives; worked with federal study on venereal disease, which was started in Macon County, Alabama, in the 1930s; from 1965 to 1975, worked in maternity clinics for the county health department; received Distinguished Service award from Department of Health, Education and Welfare.
One of three sisters who managed Cardozo Hairstylists, Inc., in Washington, D.C. See also: Elizabeth Cardozo Barker and Margaret Cardozo Holmes.
Access Restrictions: Written permission to quote from the transcript for publication is required from both Catherine Cardozo Lewis's heirs and from the Director of the Schlesinger Library.
Former dean of the School of Social Work, Howard University; teacher, case worker, public welfare administrator; involved in many government conferences and programs.
Access Restrictions: Permission to quote from the transcript for publication is required from both the Director of the Schlesinger Library and the Director of the Moorland-Spingarn Collection, Howard University.
Librarian; first black director of a branch public library in Los Angeles; established a pictorial library and history of black settlers in California prior to 1910.
Access Restrictions: Written permission to quote from the transcript for publication is required from both Miriam Matthews or her heirs and from the Director of the Schlesinger Library. Access Restrictions: Audiotapes are closed to research until 2027.
Active clubwoman; in early career, taught English in public schools in Beaumont, Texas; also introduced a music program into the schools; moved to Washington in 1933, and taught piano in her home; president of the Texas Association of Negro Musicians for ten years; active in WCTU and other civic and social clubs.
Access Restrictions: Written permission to quote from the transcript for publication is required from both Eliza Champ McCabe's heirs and from the Director of the Schlesinger Library.
Specialist in early childhood education, community organizer; executive director of United Community Services in Massachusetts; educational director of Associated Day Care Services of Metropolitan Boston; consultant to the National Head Start program; professor, Wheelock College.
Access Restrictions: Audiotapes are closed to research use until 2027.
Political activist, Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM); founded Republic of New Africa; completed school only to fourth grade; worked with Garvey movement; member of Communist Party from 1930s to 1950; first black woman in Coast Guard; part of committee to end segregation in baseball leagues; says that she was the originator of the idea of black reparation; founder and president of the Universal Association of Ethiopian Women; attended All-African Women's Conference in Tanzania, in 1973.
Access Restrictions: Written permission to quote from the transcript for publication is required from both Audley Moore's heirs and from the Director of the Schlesinger Library.
A housewife and domestic worker; from North Carolina, a migrant to the North.
Access Restrictions: Written permission to quote from the transcript for publication is required from both Annie M. Nipson's heirs and from the Director of the Schlesinger Library.
Granddaughters of Jefferson Long, black congressman from Georgia in the Reconstruction period; daughters of Henry Allen Rucker, active in politics, and Collector of Internal Revenue for the southeast region of the United States from 1897 to 1909. The sisters have established a small collection of the papers and mementos of their father and grandfather. Mrs. Lucy Aiken worked in real estate. Miss Hazel Rucker was a retired schoolteacher, Mrs. Neddie Harper was the widow of the former dean of men at Paine College.
Schoolteacher; father and grandfather active in civic affairs and political affairs in Washington, Boston, and Cambridge; Miss Smith continued this tradition; father's hobby was photography. Miss Smith donated to the Museum of Afro-American History in Boston hundreds of glass negatives and 1,000 photographs of black life taken by her father from 1880 through the turn of the century. A typed manuscript of her autobiography (1971) is in the Schlesinger Library.
Access Restrictions: Permission to quote from the transcript for publication is required both from Julia Hamilton Smith's heirs and from the Director of the Schlesinger Library.
Founder and co-director of Freedom House, Boston, a social service agency established to develop effective citizen participation and to promote interracial understanding and cooperation; very active as a volunteer in many professional and civic associations; member of the Black Women Oral History Project Advisory Committee.
Professor of education; lecturer; author; active in education and guidance programs as director of the Greater Harlem Comprehensive Guidance Center; chairperson for the development of a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural teacher education program, Lehman College; developed Study Abroad-Ethnic Heritage, a graduate teacher education program in five Nigerian universities; leader of study seminars to Africa; active in the National Council of Churches, World Council of Churches; ordained Baptist minister.
With the National Urban League from 1930 to 1971, in guidance, vocational services, public relations; director of the Office of Conferences of the National Urban League, 1968-1971. Access Restrictions: No part of the transcript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of both Ann Tanneyhill or her heirs and the Director of the Schlesinger Library.
Professor of history at Howard University; author of numerous books and articles on international affairs, including The United States and the Hawaiian Kingdom, and Diplomacy in the Pacific; worldwide traveler and recipient of many fellowships and awards; a Fulbright lecturer in India; member of the Black Women Oral History Project Advisory Committee. Access Restrictions: The transcript will be open for research use as soon as it is completed. Permission to quote from the transcript for publication is required from both Merze Tate's heirs and the Director of the Schlesinger Library.
Chief interest was preventive medicine and public health; first black woman physician to receive a degree and practice medicine in California; worked in various capacities for the city of Los Angeles, the county, and the state of California. Access Restrictions: Audiotapes are closed to research use until 2027. Permission to quote from the transcript for publication is required both from the trustees of the estate of Ruth Temple and from the Director of the Schlesinger Library.
A member of an old pioneer family, active in community affairs; as a child danced on stage circuit; later worked with the Federal Theatre and the American Negro Theatre in New York City; eventually studied speech and became a speech therapist in the public schools of Seattle; very interested in black history and as a volunteer taught black history in the schools and gave lectures; recorded the history of older blacks in Seattle.
Early career as interviewer for the Illinois and United States Employment Services; associate editor, co-managing editor, book reviewer, international editor with Johnson Publishing Company and Ebony; active in civic affairs. Access Restrictions: Audiotapes are closed to research use until 2027. No part of the transcript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of both Era Bell Thompson's heirs and the Director of the Schlesinger Library.
Dentist, practiced for 40 years; from 1937-1947 organized groups of professionals to go to Mound Bayou, Mississippi, to provide dental care for the needy; helped organize Fair Housing Committees in Natick, Massachusetts; helped establish South Middlesex (Massachusetts) Branch, NAACP; in 1973 received from them the outstanding achievement award for humanitarian services.
Teacher, educator; one of the first black supervisors in the Atlanta public schools; assistant principal of Booker T. Washington High School (Atlanta), the first high school to be established for blacks, in 1929; active in social and civic organizations.
Ordained minster; pastor and founder of the Perpetual Mission for Saving Souls of All Nations in Detroit, which administers to the poor by providing day care services, classes, counseling, medical care, and food; described as "a one woman war on poverty"; recipient of numerous awards in recognition of her efforts. Access Restrictions: Permission to quote from the transcript for publication is required both from Charleszetta Waddles's heirs and from the Director of the Schlesinger Library.
Short story writer, journalist with the Vineyard Gazette; friend of Langston Hughes, Claude McKay, Countee Cullen, and other writers and artists of the Harlem Renaissance; author of The Living Is Easy, novel published in 1948 and reissued in 1982. Access Restrictions: Permission to quote from the transcript for publication is required both from Dorothy West's heirs and from the Director of the Schlesinger Library.
Employed by the student YWCA; served in the Office of Price Administration during F.D. Roosevelt's presidency; on President Truman's Committee on Civil Rights; special assistant to the Department of State; in 1950 worked for Senator Herbert Lehman (New York); interracial secretary of the YWCA, New York City.
Mrs. Wise spoke of her own life as well as that of her sister, Satyra Bennett (1892-1977), a Cambridge civic leader, who died before she could be interviewed for the Black Women Oral History Project. Mrs. Bennett worked for over thirty years as a linotype operator; was very active in St. Paul A.M.E. Church in Cambridge; co-founder of Citizens Charitable Health Association and the Cambridge Community Center. Mrs. Wise worked mostly in a clerical capacity, employed by U.S. Navy in World War II in ship fittings and in personnel; first black woman to be employed by the banking department of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts; also active in the St. Paul A.M. E. Church.
Professor of education; writer; served on the New Jersey State Board of Higher Education; president of National Alliance of Black School Educators; active with the AAUW and many other educational organizations; member of the Black Women Oral History Project Advisory Committee. Access Restrictions: Written permission to quote from the transcript for publication is required both from Deborah Wolfe's heirs and from the Director of the Schlesinger Library.
Active in National Association of Colored Women's Clubs; president, Public Stenographers' Association, and Business and Professional Women's Clubs; at one time operated own business for mail advertising and public stenography; hoped to establish a black historical society. Access Restrictions: The transcript is open for research use. Permission to quote from the transcript for publication is required both from Arline Yarbrough's heirs and from the Director of the Schlesinger Library.