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Introduction to Black Feminism

This research guide celebrates the accomplishments of Black feminists and their scholarship and work.

National Association of Colored Women (NACW)

Founded by Mary Church Terrell in 1896, the NACW rose to national prominence as affiliated groups proliferated across the country, making NACW the largest federation of Black women’s clubs. As an emerging Black public sphere, NACW structured national debates about the major problems confronting the race and encouraged local affiliates to experiment with innovative mechanisms to addressing them. Supplementing work already conducted in churches and religious groups, NACW offered a secular organizational structure that explicitly advanced women’s leadership at national and local levels, while advocating equality and demonstrating the enormous talent of African Americans as capable citizens.  

"Lifting as we climb." the slogan of the NACW became the motto for Black women activism in the late 19th century. Black women organized clubs, schools, and social movements in the face of growing white intimidation and violence following the abandonment of Reconstruction in 1876. Although denied political rights, Black women created diverse institutions, generated positive images of their communities, and sought to reshape public perceptions of African Americans within and beyond the United States.

National Museum of African American History and Culture, Smithsonian Institution. "Smithsonian Learning Lab Resource: Pin for the National Association of Colored Women's Clubs." Smithsonian Learning Lab. January 1, 2020. Accessed February 15, 2023.

Early Black Women Feminists

Publications on or by the early Black Women Leaders

Bacon, Margaret Hope. “‘One Great Bundle of Humanity’: Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (1825-1911).” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 113, no. 1 (1989): 21–43.

Taylor, Traki L. “'Womanhood Glorified': Nannie Helen Burroughs and the National Training School for Women and Girls, Inc., 1909-1961,” The Journal of African American History 87 (2002): 390-402.

Terrell, Mary Church, 1863-1954. A Colored Woman in the White World (1940).

Williams-Way, Gloria Taylor. “Lucy Craft Laney, the Mother of the Children of the People: Educator, Reformer, Social Activist.” ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 1998.


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