Dorothy Boulding Ferebee (1949–53)

In November 1949, at the fourteenth annual convention, Dorothy Boulding Ferebee was elected the second national president of the National Council of Negro Women. Ferebee was one of several young women whom Bethune had groomed and identified as a possible successor. Ferebee was a physician who came from a distinguished family of organizers and club leaders. She was the grandniece of Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin, the founder of the Boston New Era Club, and a founder of the NACW. Prior to her election as president of NCNW, Dr. Ferebee had served as tenth national president of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority and national treasurer of the NCNW. Earlier in her career, she had founded the Southeast Settlement House in Washington, D.C.Dr. Ferebee served as NCNW president from November 1949 to November 1953.

By supporting the United Nation’s policies of human rights and peace, and through more focused programmatic thrusts aimed at eliminating the segregation of and discrimination against blacks and women in health care, education, housing, and the armed forces, Dr. Ferebee’s administration succeeded in maintaining the established NCNW program of advocacy and in expanding the understanding of the national council concept. Ferebee began by immediately announcing a “Nine Point Program” that affirmed NCNW goals and set forth a few new specific programmatic approaches.

She proposed to address most problems through brochures and pamphlets informing the membership of the issues, and to collaborate and cooperate with federal agencies and nonprofit organizations in sponsoring conferences and distributing data. In particular, she proposed that the council implement its commitment to basic civil rights through education and legislation by conducting voter-registration campaigns for local and national elections, recommending the appointment of qualified black citizens to high level government positions, and promoting the passage of legislation that would address lynching, the poll tax, genocide, federal aid to education, women’s status, national health, and the establishment of a Fair Employment Practices Commission.

Dorothy Ferebee’s job was not easy. It was difficult to fill Mary McLeod Bethune’s shoes, and although Bethune had relinquished the presidency, she was constantly sought as the official representative of the NCNW. She graciously helped to smooth the path for Ferebee, but as founder and president emeritus, she outshone all the existing and aspiring black female leadership. It took at least a year or more before Ferebee received the recognition associated with her position. Hampered by a limited budget and staff, and having to maintain a full-time job while being a full-time president, was no easy task. However, Ferebee, highly motivated, success-oriented, and committed, was able to guide the council smoothly through the transitional period.

Still, the need for a clearly defined program was a major issue until the late 1960s. Dorothy Ferebee and her successor, Vivian Carter Mason, understood the problem, but with a limited financial base were unable to solve it. The delivery of tangible program services was not realized until the administration of Dorothy Irene Height, the fourth president of NCNW. Yet, though the NCNW lacked the traditional programming associated with voluntary organizations, it continued to diversify its activities and address issues of major significance.