“Legacy of the past, foundation for the future.”
The National Council of Negro Women was founded by Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune in 1935 in Harlem with a core focus of helping women of African descent, their families and their communities. Dr. Bethune was a distinguished educator and government advisor who also founded Bethune-Cookman College. She saw the need for harnessing the power and leadership of Black Women through a national organization. Dr. Bethune described “the need for a united organization of women to open doors for our young women, united so that when it speaks, its power will be felt.” In 1974, Dr. Bethune became the first Black leader and the first woman to have a monument, the Bethune Memorial Statue, erected on public park land in Washington, DC in honor of her remarkable contributions.
In 1955, the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) – Westchester Section was charted. NCNW-Westchester Section was chartered by Lessie Bowere, Vida Byas, Amelia Foster, Lucy Goode, Clarissa Johnson, Marion Watts, Elizabeth Wilson, Rachel Wright and Prudence Black, who served as the first President from 1955-1956. These nine women felt the need to commit to a national organization that would be the foundation for them to serve in their local community.
In 1944, Alice Knuckles, a member of NCNW-Westchester and long-time Mount Vernon resident, was fortunate to meet Dr. Bethune and Eleanor Roosevelt in Washington, DC. Mrs. Knuckles said that she was living in a women’s dormitory (common during that time) and Dr. Bethune came to speak to the young women about NCNW. Mrs. Knuckles says that she recalls that Dr. Bethune was “a very nice lady” and she was impressed by all that she accomplished and the work that she was doing to help others. While it would be almost 30 years from that initial meeting until she joined NCNW-Westchester, Mrs. Knuckles continues to work tirelessly for the organization at 90 years old, serving for many years as its Treasurer and now as the Parliamentarian.
Throughout its existence, the members of NCNW-Westchester have worked to educate and enrich the community through many activities and services. In 1976, Blondena Furtick, a long-time Mount Vernon resident and NCNW-Westchester Section President from 1962-1963, chaired the United Nations Development Program for Women in Eastern and Southern Africa. For five years, the organization conducted fundraisers to provide monies to African women to assist them in developing small businesses that would provide income for their families and resources for their villages.
In 1979, Shirley Corn, a Mount Vernon resident, chaired the first Youth Incentive Awards Program. That first year, the program celebrated the accomplishments of over 200 youth in the areas of academics, community service, church service, visual arts, performing arts and athletics. NCNW-Westchester continues to acknowledge and honor our youth through this annual program. Mrs. Corn had a passion for our youth and in 1999, Shirley Corn chaired the committee that developed a partnership between NCNW-Westchester and Children’s Village. NCNW-Westchester adopted Bradish Cottage which was home to at risk boys ages 7 through 13. NCNW-Westchester provided assistance to the boys by providing items needed for their cottage. Mrs. Corn also was instrumental in teaching the boys how to cook and during the summer helped them to create and nurture a garden where they grew fruits and vegetables.
In 1989, the organization held a Black History Fashion Show at the Doles Center in Mount Vernon. The models wore fashions representing famous persons in Black history from slavery to the present. In addition, to showing the fashions of the historical figures, there was information presented about each person and their contribution to our history.
In October 2007, NCNW-Westchester partnered with the American Cancer Society for its “Think Pink” Extravaganza. The event honored three women who were cancer survivors, as well as, acknowledged over 25 other cancer survivors. The organization also solicits donations and participates in the annual Breast Cancer Walk.
NCNW was led by the late Dr. Dorothy I. Height who served as National President from 1957 – 1998 and served as Chair and President Emerita until her death in April 2010. Dr. Height worked closely with the civil rights leaders - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Roy Wilkins, Whitney Young, A. Phillip Randolph. As president of NCNW, Dr. Height crusaded for justice for black women and worked to strengthen the black family. She developed several national and community-based programs, placing special emphasis on attracting young people. Currently, our NCNW leadership consists of our National Chair, Dr. Barbara L. Shaw and our Executive Director, Dr. Avis Jones-DeWeever. Dr. Shaw is an educator, administrator, and extraordinary spiritual leader, who is committed to the struggle for the equality of human rights for all people. Dr. Jones-DeWeever is a published author, public speaker, policy analyst, and strategist.
The National Council of Negro Women – Westchester Section continues to provide services to the community. Our focus for the future is providing direction to and developing the capacity of our youth to be the next leaders of our organization and in our communities. Our current initiatives include – membership outreach to women under 35; chartering a Youth Section for girls; Black Scholars – an academic achievement program; and “Fit for Life”, an initiative to combat childhood obesity in partnership with the National Institutes of Health. We meet on the 1st Saturday of each month from 10am to 12noon at First Presbyterian Church in Mount Vernon.
We are always looking for members of all ages and ask that you contact us at (914) 315-7580 or
Audrey Washington is the president of the National Council of Negro Women – Westchester Section. She can be reached via e-mail at: