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HISTORY OF 
THE NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF COLORED WOMEN (NACW)

The National Association of Colored Women (NACW) was established in Washington, D.C., USA, by the merger in 1896 of the National Federation of Afro-American Women, the Women’s Era Club of Boston, and the National League of Colored Women of Washington, DC, as well as smaller organizations that had arisen from the African-American women’s club movement.

 

Founders of the NACW included Harriet Tubman, Frances E. W. Harper, Ida Bell Wells-Barnett, and Mary Church Terrell. It’s two leading members were

Josephine Ruffin and Mary Church Terrell. Their original intention was “to furnish evidence of the moral, mental and material progress made by people of color through the efforts of our women”. They formed in response to black women’s clubs being refused from exhibiting at the 1893 World’s Fair in

Chicago.

 

During the next ten years, the NACW became involved in campaigns in favor of women’s suffrage and against lynching and Jim Crow laws. They also led efforts to improve education, and care for both children and the elderly. By 1918, when the United States entered the First World War, membership in the NACW had grown to an extraordinary 300,000 nationwide.

 

The National Association of Colored Women was the most prominent organization formed during the Black Women’s Movement. This was due chiefly to the efforts of Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin and Mary Church Terrell. Both women were educated, had economically successful parents, and were of mixed racial background.

 


Mary Church Terrell was the daughter of Charles Church, a former slave and reputed son of a white master. Charles Church built a business and became one of the wealthiest black men in the South. He was able to send Mary to Oberlin College, where she earned both bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Years later Mary Church Terrell spoke at the Berlin International Congress of Women. She made a great impression because she gave her speech in fluent German and French, as well as English. Terrell was the only black woman at the conference.

 

Terrell became president of the National Association of Colored Women in the United States. She led the struggle in Washington, DC against segregation in public eating places and succeeded in winning a court decision for integration there. Mary Church Terrell died in Annapolis, Maryland on July 24th, 1954.

 

The organization of the National Association of Colored Women helped all

African-American women by working on issues of civil rights and injustice, such as women’s suffrage, lynching, and Jim Crow laws.

 

Born on August 31, 1842 in Boston, Josephine St. Pierre was the daughter of John St. Pierre, a successful clothes dealer from Martinique. Little is known about her mother. Her parents supported her going to school in Salem for integrated schools, rather than Boston. There Josephine St. Pierre flourished. At age 16 she married George Lewis Ruffin, the first African-American graduate of Harvard Law School. Among their early activities was recruiting black soldiers for the Union Army during the Civil War. After George Ruffin died in 1886, Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin used part of her estate to fund Woman’s Era, the first journal published by and for African-American women. Ruffin was a vice-president of the National Association of Colored Women. In 1910 Ruffin enlarged her social activism by helping form the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). She died in March of 1924.