Dorothy Irene Height (March 24, 1912 – April 20, 2010) was an American administrator, educator, and a Civil Rights and Women’s Rights activistspecifically focused on the issues of African American women. Some issues she worked on are unemployment, illiteracy, and voter awareness. She was the president of the National Council of Negro Women for forty years, and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1994, and theCongressional Gold Medal in 2004.
She was born in Richmond, Virginia to James Height and Fannie Burroughs. At a very early age, she moved with her family to Rankin, Pennsylvania, a steel town in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, where she graduated from Rankin High School in 1929. Height received a scholarship from the Elks which helped her to attend college. Height was admitted to Barnard College in 1929, but upon arrival, she was denied entrance because the school had an unwritten policy of admitting only two black students per year. She pursued studies instead at New York University, earning a degree in 1932, and a master’s degree in educational psychology the following year. Height pursued further postgraduate work at Columbia University and the New York School of Social Work (the predecessor of the Columbia University School of Social Work).
Height started working as a caseworker with the New York City Welfare Department and, at the age of twenty-five, she began a career as a civil rights activist when she joined the National Council of Negro Women. She fought for equal rights for both African Americans and women, and in 1944 she joined the national staff of the YWCA. She also served as National President of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority from 1946 to 1957. She remained active with Delta Sigma Theta Sorority throughout her life. While there she developed leadership training programs and interracial and ecumenical education programs.
In 1957, Height was named president of the National Council of Negro Women, a position she held until 1997. During the height of the civil rights movement of the 1960s, Height organized “Wednesdays in Mississippi“, which brought together black and white women from the North and South to create a dialogue of understanding.
American leaders regularly took her counsel, including First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, and Height also encouraged President Dwight D. Eisenhower to desegregate schools and President Lyndon B. Johnson to appoint African American women to positions in government. In the mid 1960s, Height wrote a column entitled “A Woman’s Word” for the weekly African-American newspaper, theNew York Amsterdam News and her first column appeared in the March 20, 1965 issue on page 8.
Height served on a number of committees, including as a consultant on African affairs to the Secretary of State, the President’s Committee on the Employment of the Handicapped, and the President’s Committee on the Status of Women. In 1974, Height was named to the National Council for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research, which publishedThe Belmont Report, a response to the infamous “Tuskegee Syphilis Study” and an international ethical touchstone for researchers to this day.
In 1990, Height, along with 15 other African American women and men, formed the African-American Women for Reproductive Freedom. Height was recognized by Barnard for her achievements as an honorary alumna during its commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 2004.
The musical stage play If This Hat Could Talk, based on her memoirs Open Wide The Freedom Gates, debuted in the middle of 2005. It showcases her unique perspective on the civil rights movement and details many of the behind-the-scenes figures and mentors who shaped her life, including Mary McLeod Bethune and Eleanor Roosevelt.
Height was the chairperson of the Executive Committee of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the largest civil rights organization in the USA. She was an honored guest at the inauguration of President Barack Obama on January 20, 2009 and was seated on the stage. 
On March 25, 2010 Height was admitted to Howard University Hospital in Washington D.C. for unspecified reasons. Her spokeswoman issued a statement stating that at that time she was in a “very serious, but stable” condition but that they were remaining optimistic about her recovery. On April 20, 2010, Height died at the age of ninety-eight. Her funeral service at the Washington National Cathedral on April 29, 2010 was attended by President and Mrs. Obama plus many dignitaries and notable people. She was later interred at Fort Lincoln Cemetery in Brentwood, Maryland.
Awards and honors
- Presidential Citizens Medal (1989)
- Spingarn Medal from the NAACP (1993)
- Franklin Delano Roosevelt Freedom From Want Award (1993)
- inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame (1993)
- Presidential Medal of Freedom (1994)
- 7th Annual Heinz Award Chairman’s Medal (2001)
- Listed on Molefi Kete Asante‘s list of 100 Greatest African Americans (2002)
- Congressional Gold Medal by President George W. Bush on behalf of the United States Congress (Approved, 2003) (Awarded, 2004)
- 2009 Foremothers Lifetime Achievement Award from the NRC for Women & Families
- Upon her death, President Barack Obama ordered flags to be flown at half-mast on April 29, 2010 in her honor.
- On May 21, 2010, a Call Box was dedicated to Dr. Height. The Call Box is located on 7th Street, SW, in front of the last building in which Height lived.