For a very long time, women did not have any freedom and rights. In 1898, Jane Croly of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs wrote that women were able to reach out of their homes by themselves through religious institutions at first. As women started being involved in churches and charitable groups, this helped them to find companionship and facilitate change in communities. Their groups were formed by white women as early as in the 1790s; later women started being involved in antislavery and temperance groups and women’s suffrage in the 1840s. African Americans came together to create community welfare organisations even before they were free from slavery. The Female Benevolent Society of St. Thomas, Philadelphia started in 1793 was one of the first African American women’s club.
During the great migration, at least 50,000 African Americans moved to the north. The club movement had begun to focus on social and political reform and was more secular. This meant that now black women faced the same issues like the white women during this period, post-1890. However, black women were still excluded from the services and benefits that were for whites only. Black women were also excluded from black men’s clubs.
Ida B. Wells was an important figure in the growth of these African American women’s clubs. She was one of the founding members of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP). Wells’ news reporting covered incidents of inequality and racial segregation. In the 1890s, she documented lynching in the United States in her indictment called “Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in all its Phases”, that investigated frequent claims of whites that lynching was reserved for black criminals only. Wells exposed it as a barbaric practice of whites in the South used to oppress and intimidate the African Americans who created political and economic competition; a threat to the power of the whites. Wells newspaper office and presses were destroyed by a white mob, but her reporting was carried in all black newspapers.
Patricia Davis, an associate professor of Communication Studies at Northeastern University, analysed memorialisation of the experiences of African Americans from the late 18th century to the late 19th century in the black history museums. Davis now plans to study women of the African American women’s clubs and public service organisations of the 20th century, including the National Council of Negro Women. For her next book project, she will look at the history of political and civic discourse among African-American elites as it relates to the public representation of African-American women, she will examine how women in the upper-middle class helped women in the working class determine their public portrayal of self.