Dorothy Irene Height Biography
1999 Lifetime of Courage Award Recipient

Dorothy I. Height Photo

Photo Credit:
National Council of Negro Women Website

For nearly half a century, Dorothy Irene Height has given leadership to the struggle for equality and human rights for all people. Her life exemplifies her passionate commitment for a just society and her vision of a better world.

Born in Richmond, Virginia, and educated in the public schools in Rankin, PA, she enrolled in New York University and earned a bachelor and master's degrees in four years. She did further postgraduate work at Columbia University and the New York School of Social Work.

Employed in many capacities by both government and social service associations, she is known primarily by her leadership role with the YWCA and the National Council of Negro Women. November 7, 1937 was the turning point in the life of Dorothy Height for she met Mary McLeod Bethune, founder and president of the Harlem YWCA who was escorting Eleanor Roosevelt into a NCNW meeting. Height answered Mrs. Bethune's call for help and joined her in her quest for women's rights to equal employment, pay and education.

Height was elected national president of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority in 1947 and carried the sorority to a new level of organizational development throughout her term, which ended in 1956. Her leadership training skills, social work background and knowledge of volunteerism benefited the sorority as it moved into a new era of activism on the national and international scenes. From the presidency of Delta Sigma Theta, Height assumed the presidency of the National Council of Negro Women in 1957, a position she still holds today.

Height's international travels and studies, begun in 1937, have taken her throughout Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America. She is known for her extensive international and developmental education work and these experiences helped prepare her for moving the NCNW agenda into one of cooperation and collaboration in response to the needs of people, both domestically and internationally. In 1974, Dr. Height was a delegate to the UNESCO Conference on Women and Her Rights held in Kingston, Jamaica. In 1975, she participated in the Tribunal at the International Women's Year Conference of the United Nations at Mexico City.

Her distinguished service and contributions to making the world a more just and humane one have earned her 20 honorary degrees and over 50 awards and honors from local, state, and national organizations and the federal government. She received the John F. Kennedy Memorial Award of the National Council for Jewish Women in 1965. For her contributions in the interfaith and interracial movements, she was awarded the Ministerial Interfaith Association Award in 1969.