As Women’s History Month comes to a close this week, we need to not just recognize the women who we are familiar with in history, such as Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, and Marie Curie, but women who are unsung heroes. When I logged onto my computer yesterday to Google’s home page, the Google Doodle intrigued me. It was a beautiful drawing, but who was it? It wasn’t until I clicked the doodle that I found out it was Dorothy Irene Height, one of the civil rights and women’s rights unsung heroes.
Dorothy Irene Height was an influential civil rights and women’s rights leader. She is credited as one of the first activists to recognize the intersection between the civil rights and feminist movements. Among her amazing resume of accomplishments “she was the president of the National Council of Negro Women for over 40 years, co-founded the National Women’s Political Caucus with Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan, helped convince President Dwight Eisenhower to desegregate schools, encouraged President Lyndon Johnson to appoint black women to government positions, counseled First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, stood next to Dr. King when he delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech, and sat on the stage for President Barack Obama’s first inauguration.”
She was often referred to as the “glue” to unite civil rights leaders and helped to bridge the gap between civil rights and women’s rights movements. However, while Height worked to make major contributions to civil and women’s rights, she was often marginalized or outcast by each group either because of her race within the women’s movement or her gender in civil rights groups. But she found ways to connect these two groups in order to have them realize the importance of working together for equality. For example, she organized “Wednesdays in Mississippi”, in order to bring together black and white women from both the North and South to open the lines of communication.
She specifically wanted to help women of color progress and succeed. She worked to help black women who were being abused for their labor by only getting paid 15 cents an hour to do house labor for white, suburban women. Her work helping women in these “slave markets”—as they were commonly called – helped advance her credibility as a fighter for equal working rights for women and assisting women of color. She also recognized the power of feminism and wanted to urge women of color to embrace it. Delegate Eleanor Norton from Washington D.C. explains,
“Dorothy Height deserves credit for helping black women understand that you had to be feminist at the same time you were African . . . that you had to play more than one role in the empowerment of black people.”
Featuring Height in the Google Doodle also makes way for representation and visibility of women and specifically women of color. Only 18% of Google Doodles include women, and even worse 2.3% of those doodles feature women of color. Height showcases the importance of intersectionality within the move toward equal rights.
Height and her feature on the Google Doodle, while seeming like a simple gesture, speaks volumes to the importance of women’s history visibility. We need to increase history that focuses on influential women, and particularly women of color, that have changed America because no woman quite as remarkable as Dorothy Irene Height deserves to be forgotten.