Chronicling the history of the Mississippi State Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs (MSFCWC) is a story within itself. The role of this organization is unparalleled as a charitable, non-profit organization devoted primarily to the uplift of African American people who have struggled for survival and educational, economic, and cultural development ever since the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863. The women who organized MSFCWC had wisdom, courage, and commitment to the cause of service to the African American family. They shared their time, talents, and monetary means to “Lift Others as They Climbed.”
With federation already in motion on the National level, in 1901, Mrs. Margaret Murray Washington, President of the Southeastern Association of Colored Women’s Clubs held an annual session of that body in Vicksburg, MS. Many leading women of the state attended this meeting which initiated interest in club work. The first united effort began in August 1903 at the call of Mrs. U. J. Wade Foster and Mrs. Mattie F. Rowan of Alcorn A&M College, now Alcorn State University, and Mrs. Lizzie W. Coleman of Greenville, MS.
The 24th State President, Ms. Iva Sandifer stated in the Forward of the History of the Mississippi State Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs that, “If a woman does not know who she is, nor what she finds difficult to project, or what she shall become, she faces a real dilemma.” These women knew who they were, what to project, and where they wanted to go. With those objectives in mind, the MSFCWC was organized at Pearl Street AME Church with six clubs attending. This meeting was made possible through the hospitality of the Phyllis Wheatley Club of Jackson. Mrs. D. H. Butler was President of this club.
Sarah Dickey and Mount Hermon Seminary both played an important part at the beginning of this organization. The Mount Hermon Seminary was founded in 1875 by the late Sarah Dickey who was a white educator from Massachusetts. The primary purpose of the school was to educate Black women and girls. Miss Dickey made the school her life’s work. She died at the school and is buried on the property.
The state is organized on local, city, and district levels including youth and young adult clubs. Federated club work on the state level provides the organizational structure for local, city, and district clubs which make up the State Federation. Local clubs are the vital lifeline to the local communities. These units are vehicles for club women to focus on National Federation programs. City clubs are organized in cities where two or more local clubs exist. District clubs are made up of the local and city clubs which are located within each of the six state districts.
MSFCWC has sponsored and supported many noteworthy statewide projects. One of its pioneer projects was the Old Folk’s Home in Vicksburg, MS. In 1901, Warren County maintained a poor house for disabled persons who had no means of livelihood. Because of a lack of funds and support, it didn’t last long. In 1904, the Women’s Christian Union acquired an old antebellum house for $1,200.00 and chartered it as an Old Folk’s Home. They renovated this house and cared for many persons who were in need.
In 1910, an agreement was drawn up transferring the Old Folk’s Home to MSFCWC. They operated this home for ten years. In 1923, Mrs. Bertha L. Johnson (eighth president) offered a resolution that the organization establishes a home for delinquent youth. At this time Black youth were sent to county farms and prisons. Therefore, in 1927, the MSFCWC purchased 167 acres of land for $8,000.00 known as Mount Hermon Seminary in Clinton, MS. This acquisition made it possible for the State Federation to provide a home for delinquent youth and many other opportunities for both young and old people to develop their potential.
After the purchase of this property, the name of Mount Hermon Seminary was changed to Margaret Murray Washington. Two farmhouses and a barn were built on this property for the cost of $1,200 for both houses and $275 for the barn. One of the houses was burned; the other one has just been renovated and has a family living there. According to history, some of this land was rented to farmers as sharecroppers, who grew cotton, corn, and other crops to help with the expense of running the school and home.
Somewhere between 1934-1940 under the leadership of Mrs. Bertha L. Johnson, ten (10) acres of land were donated to Hinds County Public Schools to establish the first rural high school in that county for Black youth. Today, the school is known as Sumner Hill High School.
There was also a need for recreational activities in the community since Blacks were denied access to public and private facilities available to white people. The organization granted long-term leases of plots of land to 4-H clubs and Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America to develop first-class camping facilities.
Another outstanding contribution to African American citizens of Mississippi is the Oakley story. After the Margaret Murray Washington building was destroyed by fire in 1930, the organization realized the task of such a project. Being determined as Federated Women are, they worked with the Mississippi State Legislature to assume the responsibility of a constructive program for delinquent Black youth. It is now an integral part of the State program to rehabilitate youth of all races. Today it is known as Oakley Youth Developmental Center, previously known as the Oakley Training School. The State Federation continues its interest in Oakley and clubs are encouraged to maintain interest in the school and its occupants.
In 1963, the Club Women of the Year Award began under the administration of Dr. Willie Mae Latham Taylor. The purpose of this award is to recognize women who have made outstanding contributions to their respective communities.
Another noteworthy contribution to this organization is the publication of the history of the MSFCWC by Dr. Cleopatra Thompson-copyright 1990. Dr. Doris Ginn, our historian, is in the process of revising this edition.
Another important project was taken on by Mrs. Mattie Thompson, as she planted pine trees on the Clinton property in 2000. The organization is looking forward to its reward in a few years. Mrs. Barbara Bacon Quinn, our 27th president, was instrumental in helping the organization obtain 501-3C tax status, another great achievement for MSFCWC.
Mississippi became a member of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs in 1908 and joined the Southeastern Association of Colored Women’s Clubs in 1912. The most ambitious project that has been undertaken by this organization was the securing of funds and erection of Federation Towers in four locations: Clinton, Grenada, Clarksdale, and Hattiesburg. This project was done under the leadership of our 19th president, Mrs. Eva H. Bishop.
As we look back on the successes and joys of the past, we must turn all of that past upon the present and the future to help calm our troubled spirits and to help save a troubled world. May we continue to reach out to others through faith, hope, and love-“Lifting As We Climb.”
Compiled by Lela Rayborn
MSFCWC President—July 2005
Thompson, Cleopatra Davenport Thompson, The History of the Mississippi State Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs, Inc. – The Challenge of Leadership and Service 1903-1990, copyright date 1990.