National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs, Inc. (1896) and the Arkansas Association of Women, Youth and Young Adult Clubs, Inc. (1901)

Brief History

The National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs, Inc. (NACWC) was established in July 1896 as a merger between the National League of Colored Women and the National Federation of Afro-American Women.  The merger enabled the NACWC to function as a national umbrella group for local and regional Black women’s organizations.

The NACWC adopted the motto of “Lifting as We Climb,” promoting self-help among women. During the early years of the organization, the largely educated and middle-class constituency supported temperance, positive images of women through moral purity, and women’s suffrage, issues also pursued by white women’s groups. However, unlike those groups, the NACWC saw their organization in terms of gender and race; viewing their women’s movement as a way to uplift black women, men, and children. For example, the NACWC saw the struggle for suffrage as the right to vote not just for women, but also for black men still disfranchised through the political maneuverings of whites.

In 1901, only one regional and six state federations existed; by 1916 there were over 300 newly registered clubs with a membership of nearly 100,000. After the United States entered World War I, the NACWC raised over $5,000,000 in war bonds. As the NACWC evolved, its interests expanded to include a host of social services, including raising money for kindergartens, libraries, orphanages, and homes for the elderly. The organization also raised awareness around lynching, segregation, and other issues specific to the black community. In addition to their social services, the NACWC actively promoted cultural events such as musical concerts and literature groups.

Supporting the war effort in World War II, the clubwomen of NACWC endorsed the sale of savings bonds and the federal thrift program. Concurrent with these efforts, the NACWC also rallied around anti-lynching and anti-poll tax legislation, and made repeated appeals to the Agricultural Adjustment Administration to treat African Americans with equality.

During the Cold War, NACWC supported desegregation and anticommunism. They also supported the Civil Rights movements and provided financial assistance to the nine black students integrating Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. Today, the NACWC continues to hold national biennial conferences and has organizations in 32 states. The NACWC has also adapted contemporary issues, including efforts to combat the AIDS virus, violence against women, and workplace exposure to chemicals.

The Arkansas Association of Women’s Clubs (AAWC) was organized in 1905 after several clubs joined the National Association of Colored Women’s Club in recognizing that in unity there is strength. The first clubs were organized in Little Rock and Fort Smith in 1898. Mrs. Mame Josenberger of Fort Smith met and became friends with Mrs. Booker T. Washington while attending Fisk University. Mrs. Washington visited Mrs. Josenberger in Fort Smith and became aware of the tremendous work the Fort Smith group known as the Relief Corps, was doing to help in a relief effort after cyclone struck the city causing extreme devastation and encouraged them to join the National movement.

In 1901 the Little Rock and the Fort Smith clubs became the first clubs to affiliate with the national organization. They became the Little Rock Branch of the NACWS and Phillis Wheatley Club of Fort Smith. As others clubs in the state were formed they too joined the national organization. My 1905 as the number of clubs across the state had increased, the leaders, Mrs. Mary H. Speight, Mrs. Mame Josenberger, Mrs. Anna T Strickland and other sent out a call for all women’s clubs to come together to consider forming a state association. The necessary action was taken and the Arkansas Association of Women’s Clubs was formed and was granted affiliation with the National Association of Women’s Clubs the same year. The first convention was held in 1908 in Hot Springs, Arkansas and Mrs. Mary H. Speight was elected president.

The women who pioneered the Arkansas and National Associations were engaged in missionary and charitable work, sewing circles, reading clubs, literary societies, mothers’ meetings and community service organizations. They were in careers as teachers, principals, physicians, nurses, and worked in other community endeavors. There cause was to improve health care for the sick, elderly, and less fortunate in their neighborhoods. The clubs were organized for the mutual benefit of its members and for group and family improvement. The objectives have not changed. Programs and services strategies have kept up with the challenges of the social political and economic needs of local, state and national conditions.

The main objective of the AAWC, Inc. during the first two decades was the establishment of a home for boys and girls who were sent to prison built for adult offenders. After many years and many visits to the offices of State officials this objective was met. A training school for boys was established in 1928-29. It took 20 years more to get the girls facility established and funded by the State. Since then, Arkansas club women turned their attention to education, scholarships, leadership training, and cultural enrichment for girls, boys and young adults. AAWC sponsored music, dance, arts and crafts and literary activities with great success at the region and national level. A large number of youth have been winners’ at all three levels and were elected officers of the SW Region and National Youth Associations.

In the early years, Mrs. Jane E. Lindsey donated 60 acres of land near Pine Bluff for development. The land is still owned by the Arkansas Association and is used to grow pine and hard wood timber.

One of the most important achievements of the AAWC was the erection of a Cultural Arts Center in Little Rock. The Center, located at 1123 Cross Street, is used by the AAWC for Board/Executive Council meeting and is available for community use.

Arkansas has 13 adult clubs, 5 youth clubs and in it 112 year history has had 28 presidents. The Arkansas Association of Women’s Clubs, Inc. has a proud history and the women of vision who started this movement more than 100 years, left us a legacy of strength, courage, leadership and achievement.

We continue to, “Lift as we Climb”.