The Library of Congress > American Memory
banner image
return to home page table of contents about the guide abbreviations search banner image

Manuscript Division



Women's Suffrage
Antislavery Movement
Labor and Progressive Reform
Women's Rights
arrow graphicAfrican American Civil Rights
Health and Medicine
Papers of Presidents and First Ladies
Congressional Collections
Legal Collections
Military and Diplomatic Affairs
Literature and Journalism
Artists, Architects, and Designers
Actresses and Actors




African American Civil Rights

Women's involvement in the twentieth-century civil rights movement is another aspect of reform particularly well documented by the division's holdings—both in the papers of individuals such as Mary Church Terrell, Nannie Helen Burroughs, Mamie Phipps Clark, Jennie Dee Booth Moton, Mabel M. Smythe, and Patricia Harris described elsewhere and in the records of numerous organizations.

One of the largest and most frequently consulted collections consists of the records of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) (2,575,375 items; 1842-1992; bulk 1919-78) [catalog record]. Founded in 1908 as the National Negro Committee, a biracial protest group, the NAACP developed into the nation's premier civil rights organization, focusing much of its attention on obtaining legal equality for African Americans. Women have played a key role in the association from its earliest beginnings, and material by and about women appears throughout the collection:

  • Of particular importance are the diaries, correspondence, and other papers of Mary White Ovington (1865-1951), one of the group's founders, who in her forty years with the organization served as an officer of the New York City branch, national secretary, and chairman of the board.
  • Other officials include Daisy Bates, Mildred Bond, Hazel Bowman, Serena Davis, Joan Franklin, Addie W. Hunton, Ruby Hurley, Daisy Lampkin, Catharine D. Lealtad, Juanita Jackson Mitchell, Constance Baker Motley, June Shagaloff, and Althea T. L. Simmons.
  • The collection's voluminous finding aid lists numerous women correspondents, including Mary McLeod Bethune, Myrlie B. Evers, and Pauli Murray.
  • Also available are files on the National Training School for Girls, the National Woman's Party, women's suffrage, the Equal Rights Amendment, the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps, and the Young Women's Christian Association.

For fund-raising and tax purposes, the NAACP established in 1939 the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (1,057,500 items; 1915-87; bulk 1940-87) [catalog record], the records of which cover many of the same topics found in the files of the parent organization. Of interest to women's historians are the papers of attorney Constance Baker Motley (b. 1921), an expert in housing issues; materials relating to Josephine Baker's discriminatory treatment; and files concerning the fund's handling of rape cases.

In 1910, just two years after the creation of the NAACP, three New York City welfare organizations merged to become the National League on Urban Conditions among Negroes, later the National Urban League (NUL). The division holds the records of the NUL's national headquarters (483,600 items; 1910-86; bulk 1930-79) [catalog record], Washington, D.C., bureau (26,100 items; 1961-85) [catalog record] and southern regional office (106,600 items; 1900-1988; bulk 1943-78) [catalog record]. Among these materials are:

  • personal papers (1931-86) of league employee Ann Taneyhill

  • files on Marian Anderson, Isobel Chisholm, and Malvina Hoffman

  • information on aid to dependent children, black women in World War II, Camp Fire Girls, child care, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, domestic workers, African American social workers, and the Young Women's Christian Association

The NUL Southern Regional Office records contain files on Bethune-Cookman College, the Big Brother and Big Sister movement, and the Women in Non-Traditional Jobs Program.

Although labor issues and labor unions came under the purview of both the NAACP and NUL, those topics are more fully explored in the records of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP) (41,000 items; 1920-68; bulk 1950-68) [catalog record] and in the personal papers of the brotherhood's founder A. Philip Randolph (13,000 items; 1909-79; bulk 1941-68) [catalog record]. Women are not the focus of either collection, but both sources contain financial records and miscellaneous papers relating to the BSCP's Ladies Auxiliary. In addition, the BSCP records contain information on the work of railroad maids and correspondence from such prominent women as Josephine Baker, Mary McLeod Bethune, Freda Kirchwey, Eartha Kitt, and Anna M. Rosenberg.

Nearly twenty-five years after establishing the BSCP, Randolph joined Roy Wilkins and Arnold Aronson in founding the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR) (93,350 items; 1943-91; bulk 1960-87) [catalog record], a coalition of more than one hundred national organizations dedicated to the enactment and enforcement of civil rights legislation on the federal level.

  • Yvonne Braithwaite, Shirley Chisholm, Patricia Roberts Harris, Coretta Scott King, Esther Peterson, Natalie P. Shear, and Glenda Sloan are among the correspondents represented in the LCCR record.

  • Subject files of interest are titled affirmative action, displaced homemakers, Equal Rights Amendment, International Women's Year, women's rights, women's issues, and World Conference of the United Nations Decade for Women.

  • Dozens of women's organizations are also represented in the collection, including such diverse groups as B'nai B'rith Women, National Association of Colored Women's Clubs, National Council of Catholic Women, and Women's Legal Defense Fund.

In 1970 civil rights lawyer William L. Taylor established the Center for National Policy Review (50,300 items; 1959-86; bulk 1971-85) [catalog record] to monitor the government's enforcement of and compliance with federal civil rights laws. Coming under the center's consideration were the Women in Construction Compliance Monitoring Project, Title IX, sex and pregnancy discrimination, the feminization of poverty, and the Equal Rights Amendment.

In 1980, Anne B. Turpeau (b. 1924) and Faith Berry (b. 1939) were part of the American delegation to the World Conference of the United Nations Decade for Women in Copenhagen, Denmark. Turpeau, a social activist affiliated with the Washington Urban League and the District of Columbia Commission for Women, collected files (20,000 items; 1915-86; bulk 1960-86) [catalog record] relating to the UN conference and to numerous African American women's groups, including the Organization of Black Activist Women, Black Women's Agenda, and National Council of Negro Women. Berry's papers (2,500 items; 1963-84; bulk 1971-83) [catalog record], on the other hand, primarily relate to her research on the life and literary career of poet Langston Hughes and her work as media coordinator for the President's Advisory Committee for Women.

red line
Home Table of Contents About the Guide Abbreviations Search
The Library of Congress> > American Memory