National Council of Negro Women (NCNW)

  • <p>Mary McLeod Bethune (center) and the other members of the Federal Council on Negro Affairs, also known as "The Black Cabinet" or "The Black Brain Trust." 1936</p>

The National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) was founded in 1935 by Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune and first headquartered in Logan Circle at 1318 Vermont Ave., now on the National Historic Registry and a National Park Service site. In 1966, after a devastating fire, NCNW moved its headquarters to the art deco Dupont Circle Building designed by Mihran Mesrobian with “genius” “interplay of ornament and geometry.” In 1995, NCNW achieved Dr. Bethune’s dream of having a strong permanent presence in the nation’s capital with the purchase of a headquarters at 633 Pennsylvania Ave., NW on America’s “Main Street” midway between the Capitol and the White House.

1318 Vermont Ave. NW (1943-66);1346 Connecticut Ave. NW (1966-95); 633 Pennsylvania Ave. NW (1995 - )

In 1935, Dr. Bethune founded NCNW. Her vision was to create an “organization of organizations” that would work together to create the profound change needed to address the economic, political, and social issues affecting African American women and their families.

Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, the daughter of slaves from South Carolina, was a famed educator; founder of a school and university; advisor to Franklin Roosevelt; and chair of the Federal Council of Negro Affairs, known as the "Black Cabinet." She was President of NACW; an activist and advocate for the poor and disenfranchised; and described as the most powerful woman in America.

Today, NCNW has over 300 community and campus-based sections and 32 national affiliates representing more than two million women and men in the US and Africa. The organization makes a difference in the lives of women, children, and families through a four-pronged strategy:

  • education with a special focus on science, technology, engineering, and math;
  • entrepreneurship, financial literacy, and economic stability;
  • education of women about good health and HIV/AIDS; and
  • civic engagement and advocacy for sound public policy and social justice.

Drawn by a chance encounter into Dr. Bethune's "dazzling orbit of people in power and people in poverty," Dr. Dorothy Height served as the fourth NCNW President for forty years (1957 - 1997). Under her leadership and skilled organizing, NCNW was a prominent supporter of civil rights and social justice. As a result of her influence in political and policy arenas, Dr. Height participated in key moments in American history, such as the signing of the Equal Pay Act by President Kennedy (above), and the “I have a dream” speech by Dr. Martin Luther King on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

For nearly ninety years, NCNW has successfully organized, promoted policies and projects that have had a direct impact on African American women and families. It has advocated for Blacks in the military (including WACS and WAVS); pushed for economic opportunity and equal pay; provided pigs to families in Mississippi; and supported Freedom Schools.

NCNW’s activities range from promotion of Black Family Reunions across the country; publications; promotion of public health (below by former President Johnetta Cole); and recognition of leaders who embrace their vision and values – such as Oprah Winfrey who received the Uncommon Height Award in 2009 from Dr. Dorothy Height and Dr. Thelma Daley, the 8th President.

  • <p>Mary McLeod Bethune, seated at her desk, working with other National Council of Negro Women employees in the President's Office on the second floor of the Council House.</p>