Dorothy Height Online Memorial Remember Always

Dorothy Irene Height

Mar 24, 1912 - Apr 20, 2010
United States

Created with love by Regine Racine-Bowen

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Life Timeline

  • 1933

    Bachelor’s degree from New York University

  • 1947

    president of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority

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Life Bio

Dorothy Height was a civil rights and women's rights activist focused primarily on improving the circumstances of and opportunities for African-American women.

Dorothy Irene Height was born on March 24, 1912, in Richmond, Va. Her father, James, was a building contractor; her mother, the former Fannie Burroughs, was a nurse. A severe asthmatic as a child, Dorothy was not expected to live, she later wrote, past the age of 16.

When Dorothy was small, the family moved north to Rankin, Pa., near Pittsburgh, where she attended integrated public schools. She began her civil rights work as a teenager, volunteering on voting rights and anti-lynching campaigns.

Her career in civil rights spanned nearly 80 years. She was the president of the National Council of Negro Women from 1957 to 1997. She helped found the National Women’s Political Caucus in 1971.

Height advised a string of American presidents on civil rights for decades. She is the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom and other prestigious awards.

President Obama called Ms. Height “the godmother of the civil rights movement and a hero to so many Americans.”

Besides the Presidential Medal of Freedom, awarded by President Bill Clinton in 1994, Ms. Height’s many honors include the Congressional Gold Medal, awarded by President George W. Bush in 2004. The two medals are the country’s highest civilian awards.

She was one of the chief organizers for the March on Washington and a prize-winning orator herself. She stood close to Martin Luther King Jr. when he delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech. Despite her skills as a speaker and a leader, Height was not invited to talk that day.

Dorothy Height presented the Mary Mcleode Bethune human rights award to Eleanor Roosevelt in 1960. Ms. Height was also chosen to escort the first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, to a meeting of the National Council of Negro Women.

Ms. Height was the president of Delta Sigma Theta, an international sorority of black women from 1947 to 1956.

Ms. Height received three dozen honorary doctorates, from institutions including Tuskegee, Harvard and Princeton Universities. But there was one academic honor — the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree — that resonated more strongly than all the rest: In 2004, 75 years after turning her away, Barnard College designated Ms. Height an honorary graduate.

The musical stage play If This Hat Could Talk, based on her memoirs Open Wide The Freedom Gates, debuted in 2005.

Ms. Height, who never married, was survived by a sister, Anthanette Aldridge, of New York City who passed away a little over a year after Dorothy.

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Fun Facts

U.S. Postal Stamp honoring Dorothy Height issued in Feb 2017

Awarded a four-year college scholarship when she won an oratory competition

Ms. Height received three dozen honorary doctorates

Ms Height was one of the organizers of the March on Washington

Stage play created based on her memoirs

Dorothy Height was admitted to Barnard College but could not enroll because Barnard had already met its quota for Negro students that year.

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