The History of the NACWC
We are women of color, African American women, black women.
Long before the founding of the of the organization, our forbearers, had organized ourselves into self-improvement and charitable organizations. These organizations were led by women named Harriet Tubman and Helen Appo Cook (both NACW founders), Sojourner Truth, Anna Julia Cooper, Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin and a plethora of unnamed others whose lives were devoted to the struggle to free people of color from the bondage of slavery, illiteracy, and prejudice in an unforgiving world that treated them as less than human. It was also the time of Ida B. Wells Barnett and her Red Record, a voluminous documentation of the lynching of black Americans.
In 1895 James W. Jacks, president of the Missouri Press Association, received a letter from Florence Balgarnie of the English Anti-Lynching League asking American journalists to help battle lynching. Jacks’ now infamous reply to her letter, attacked African Americans and specifically, black women. Jacks wrote that, “The Negroes in this country are wholly devoid of morality. They know nothing of it except as they learn by being caught for flagrant violations of law and punished therefor… They consider it no disgrace but rather an honor to be sent to prison and to wear striped clothes. The women are prostitutes and all are natural liars and thieves….Out of 200 in this vicinity it is doubtful if there are a dozen virtuous women of that number who are not daily thieving from the white people.”
The Founding of NACWC
Equivalent to the “shot heard round the world” triggering the American Revolution, the effect of James Jacks’ letter response to Florence Balgarnie’s solicitation of journalist support against lynching, catapulted black women into action.
A national “Call to Confer” sent to women’s organizations of color was issued by Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin, leader of Boston’s New Era Club.
At the conference, held in 1896 in Washington, DC, Mrs. Ruffin is quoted as stating, “The reasons why we should confer are so apparent…We need to talk over not only those things which are of vital importance to us as women, but also the things that are of special interest to us as colored women, the training of our children, openings for our boys and girls, how they can be prepared for occupations and occupations may be found or opened to them, what we especially can do in the moral education of the race with which we are identified, our mental elevations and physical development, the home training it is necessary to prepare them to meet [the] peculiar [special; difficult] conditions in which they find themselves, how to make the most of our own…opportunities, these are some of our questions to be discussed.”
Mrs. Ruffin’s statement is the foundation of the NACWC Mission. The enduring spirit of the statement has emboldened and inspired clubwomen, who have for nearly 120 years, given their energy, time, talent and their finances to serving their communities.
extracted from the website of the National Association of Colored Women's Clubs