Off-campus UMass Amherst users: To download dissertations, please use the following link to log into our proxy server with your UMass Amherst user name and password.

Non-UMass Amherst users, please click the view more button below to purchase a copy of this dissertation from Proquest.

(Some titles may also be available free of charge in our Open Access Dissertation Collection, so please check there first.)

Women of action, in action: The new politics of Black women in New York City, 1944–1972

Julie A Gallagher, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This dissertation documents a generation of black women who came to politics during the 1940s in New York City. Ada B. Jackson, Pauli Murray, Anna Arnold Hedgeman, Bessie Buchanan, Jeanne Noble and Shirley Chisholm among others, worked, studied and lived in Harlem and Brooklyn. They seized the political opportunities generated by World War II and its aftermath and pursued new ways to redress the entrenched systems of oppression that denied them full rights of citizenship and human dignity. These included not only grassroots activism, but also efforts to gain insider status in the administrative state; the use of the United Nations; and an unprecedented number of campaigns for elected office. Theirs was a new politics and they waged their struggles not just for themselves, but also for their communities and for the broader ideals of equality. When World War II began, grassroots activists operated outside the halls of formal political power. Yet they understood the necessity of engaging the state and frequently endeavored to wrest power from it: the power that made life more bearable, that made the streets safer, that kept the roofs over their heads. These activists and others in women's clubs and civic organizations won favor in their communities and they increasingly pursued formal political positions. As the war drew to a close, a growing number of black women ran for elected office and sought political appointments. However, to attain political posts, they had to overcome the entrenched traditions of Tammany Hall's machine and the gendered and racialized nature of New York City politics. Most were unsuccessful, but by 1954, a few succeed. By the 1960s, black women had made their way into national politics. They were appointed to presidential commissions, the administration and won congressional office. Dorothy Height, Pauli Murray, Jeanne Noble, and Congresswoman and presidential candidate Shirley Chisholm represent the advancements black women made into the state structure. This study illustrates the kinds of political changes women helped bring about, it underscores the boundaries of what was possible vis-à-vis the state, and it traces how race, gender and the structure of the state itself shape outcomes.

Subject Area

American history|Black history|Political science|Womens studies

Recommended Citation

Gallagher, Julie A, "Women of action, in action: The new politics of Black women in New York City, 1944–1972" (2003). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3110486.