apap041
New York State Modern Political Archive
Collection ID: apap041

Empire State Federation of Women's Clubs Records, 1938-1991

Collection description

Summary

Creator:
Empire State Federation Of Women's Clubs
Abstract:
These records document the activities and membership of the Empire State Federation of Women's Clubs (ESFWC) - the umbrella organization of New York State African-American women's groups - from 1938-1991. The collection also includes records from affiliated organizations: the National Association of Colored Women's Clubs (NACWC) and the Northeast Federation of Women's Clubs (NFWC).
Extent:
3.46 cubic ft.
Language:
English and English
Preferred citation:
Preferred citation for this material is as follows: and Identification of specific item, series, box, folder, Empire State Federation of Women's Clubs Records, 1938-1991. M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University at Albany, State University of New York (hereafter referred to as [shortened name]).

Access and Use

Conditions Governing Access:

Access to this record group is unrestricted.

Terms Of Use:

The researcher assumes full responsibility for conforming with the laws of copyright. Whenever possible, the M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives will provide information about copyright owners and other restrictions, but the legal determination ultimately rests with the researcher. Requests for permission to publish material from this collection should be discussed with the Head of Special Collections and Archives.

Background

Scope and Content:

These records document the activities and membership of the Empire State Federation of Women's Clubs (ESFWC) from 1939-1991. Materials in the collection include meeting minutes, annual convention programs and ephemera, account books, correspondence, and materials concerning the ESFWC's constituent organizations, the Northeastern Federation of Women's Clubs (NFWC) and the National Association of Colored Women's Clubs (NACWC). Records span from 1938-1991, but the bulk of them were generated in 1939-44, 1946-64, and 1968-1991.

The Executive Board and Annual Convention Minutes document in detail the membership levels and financial status of the organization and its political, charitable, and social activities. Some highlights include discussion of letters sent to presidents Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Harry Truman concerning racial discrimination in the armed forces, defense industries and federal housing programs and to the mayor of Albany, Georgia concerning the treatment of civil rights leaders Martin Luther King and Ralph Abernathy. Unfortunately, materials documenting the ESFWC's reaction to and support for the upsurge of African-American activism in the 1960's are scarce; the meeting minutes from 1964-68 are missing, and the surviving documents created in the 1960's and early 1970's typically concern internal administrative affairs.

The minutes do detail the ESFWC's position on a broad array of social issues. The organization has vocally opposed all forms of racial prejudice. It condemned lynching (1943, 1947) and discrimination in the armed forces, defense industries, and federal housing programs (1942-43, 1946), and the punitive attitude of some local officials who disbursed Aid to Families with Dependent Children (1961) benefits. It supported the civil rights struggle that took place in the South during the 1950's and 1960's; however, it apparently had little use for the black-power movement (1973). The ESFWC also took interest in a number of issues that affect women. It discussed the Equal Rights Amendment in 1944 and in the 1970's urged its ratification. It was interested in the work of Planned Parenthood (1947, 1950) and in the issue of abortion (1970; see also ESFWC Annual Convention Materials, 1975). Although its relations with white women's organizations are hard to determine, in 1963 it decided to allow white women to become members.

The minutes also document the ESFWC's interest in education and world peace. It urged the New York State Education Department to include African-American history in school curricula (1964) and evidently opposed the increasing acceptance of "black English" (1973). At least some of its members wanted Governor Hugh Carey to explain why the monies generated by the state lottery were not sufficient to prevent teacher layoffs and school budget cutbacks (see ESFWC Annual Convention Materials, 1975). As of 1938, the organization had a Peace Council and remained keenly interested in averting armed conflict (1962). The organization took an active interest in the United Nations (1950), and members apparently toured United Nations headquarters whenever an ESFWC convention was held in New York City.

Information about the organization's finances is scattered throughout the Executive Board and Annual Convention Meeting Minutes. However, financial records generated during the 1960's and early 1970's are contained largely in the Subject Files of the Financial Secretary and the Subject Files of the Treasurer. Many of these records were apparently created and compiled by Ruth Hurd Inman, who served as the financial secretary (1962-66) and treasurer (1966-c.1970) during these years. In keeping with the organization's rules, Inman seems to have passed them on to Virginia Poyer, who served as financial secretary (1968-73) and added to them.

Records documenting the ESFWC's links to the NFWC and the NACWC are contained largely within the General Subject Files. However, the Correspondence of the President and the correspondence contained in the Subject Files of the Financial Secretary also shed light upon the relations of the ESFWC to its parent organizations. ESFWC officers sometimes served on the executive boards of the NFWC and the NACWC, and some of the letters they received concerned their work on behalf of these organizations.

Materials documenting the activities of constituent clubs and biographical information about ESFWC members and officers are relatively sparse, but information about some clubs and clubwomen is contained in the Correspondence of the President, the ESFWC Subject Files, the correspondence contained in the Subject Files of the Financial Secretary, the Executive Board and Annual Convention Meeting Minutes. The 1980 annual convention minutes, which consist largely of manuscript reports of constituent clubs' activities, are especially detailed. The NACWC Per Capita Tax Reports contained within the Subject Files of the Financial Secretary are also of particular interest: they list the name and address of every woman who belonged to the ESFWC between 1961 and 1972.

Some of the older documents in the collection are fragile and should be handled carefully. In a few instances, documents have been photocopied for preservation purposes; pencilled notations appear on all photocopied materials. The records were in some instances clearly out of order and were thus rearranged to facilitate use; however, the original order has been respected whenever possible. The subject files concerning the ESFWC's administrative and social service activities and the work of organizations in which the ESFWC took an active interest are the most extensively reconstructed.

Biographical / Historical:

Founded in Brooklyn in 1908 by Alice Wiley Seay, the Empire State Federation of Women's Clubs (ESFWC) is the umbrella organization of New York State African-American women's groups.

The women who started the ESFWC had two main goals: to do "uplift work among girls and young women" and to care for the aged Harriet Tubman and her Auburn, Cayuga County home. Narrowly speaking, the latter mission ended with Tubman's death in 1913 and the refusal of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, which owned her property, to lease or sell it to the ESFWC; however, in subsequent years the organization has devoted itself to preserving historic sites associated with African-American leaders such as Frederick Douglass.

The former mission, performing "uplift work among girls and young women," has shaped the group's activities throughout the entirety of its existence. The organization consistently contributed to charitable causes and scholarship funds benefiting African-American girls and young women, and after the Second World War began sponsoring beauty pageants and organizing girls' clubs. The girls' clubs were affiliated with the Empire State Federation of Girls' Clubs, which was established in 1933 and met during the ESFWC's annual conventions. In the 1960's, the ESFWC began assisting in the organizing of boys' clubs, and in late 1987 or early 1988 the Empire State Federation of Girls' Clubs became the Empire State Federation of Youth Clubs.

Throughout its history, the group's efforts to aid African-American girls have been rooted in larger goals: ensuring the physical, intellectual and spiritual well-being of children and adolescents of both sexes and improving the conditions in which African-Americans and people of all races live, learn, and labor. The group has staunchly opposed all forms of racial prejudice and supported the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the National Urban League, and the civil rights movement. During the postwar period, it became interested in the work of Planned Parenthood and the United Nations, and in the 1960's devoted increasing attention to health care issues.

The ESFWC has long been affiliated to the National Association of Colored Women's Clubs (NACWC), which was founded in 1896 and rapidly became the largest organization of African-American women in the United States. Heavily influenced by its members' staunch Christian faith and committed to the advancement of African-American women, children, and men and the preservation of African-American history, the NACWC's orientation has closely paralleled that of the ESFWC. In addition to sending funds to the NACWC national offices and delegates to its annual convention, the ESFWC has also been active in the NACWC's regional organization, the Northeastern Federation of Women's Clubs (NFWC), to which it affiliated in 1910.

The ESFWC is headed by a president and an executive board elected at the organization's annual conventions. Seated on the executive board are the board chairman/person, first and second vice-presidents, recording secretary, corresponding secretary, treasurer, financial secretary, parliamentarian, auditor, chaplain, the presidents of each of the ESFWC's regional subdivisions, and the presidents of all of the ESFWC's constituent clubs. Until the late 1970's, the board met once immediately before or during the organization's July annual convention and once during the early autumn or early winter. After that time, the board began meeting immediately before and after the annual convention in July and during each quarter of the year. Special committees charged with planning the convention, investigating various issues, and performing other work are appointed by the president.

Acquisition information:

Some of the items in this collection were donated to the University Libraries, M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives, by the M.C. Lawton Civic and Cultural Club, of Albany, NY, on 17 April 1990. Others were donated on 16 November 1990 by Virginia Poyer, Buenia Brown, and Isabell Harris of the Empire State Federation of Women's Clubs.

Processing information:

Processed in 1990 by Geoffrey A. Huth, Bonita L. Weddle.

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Restrictions:
Access to this record group is unrestricted.
Terms of Access:
The researcher assumes full responsibility for conforming with the laws of copyright. Whenever possible, the M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives will provide information about copyright owners and other restrictions, but the legal determination ultimately rests with the researcher. Requests for permission to publish material from this collection should be discussed with the Head of Special Collections and Archives.
Preferred citation:
Preferred citation for this material is as follows: and Identification of specific item, series, box, folder, Empire State Federation of Women's Clubs Records, 1938-1991. M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University at Albany, State University of New York (hereafter referred to as [shortened name]).