In several African-American history books, particularly biographical dictionaries, Anna Arnold Hedgeman and Dorothy Height are listed almost inseparably. They were equally close together during their highly productive lifetimes. Height, who died at 98 in 2010, first met Hedgeman when she replaced her as the membership secretary of the Harlem YWCA in 1927. Meanwhile, Hedgeman, born in Iowa in 1899, became the YWCA’s executive director at several urban branches.
By 1937, Height was the assistant director of the Harlem YWCA and came to the attention of Mary McLeod Bethune, who recognized her poise and deportment while escorting Eleanor Roosevelt to a meeting of the National Council of Negro Women, of which Bethune was the founder and the president.
“Height answered Bethune’s call for help and joined Bethune in her quest for women’s right to full and equal employment, pay and education,” wrote Darlene Clark Hine in “Black Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia.”
While Height was conducting affairs at the Y, Hedgeman was a consultant on racial problems for the commissioner of New York. In 1943, she was appointed executive director of the National Council for a Permanent Fair Employment Practices Committee. Three years later, she was the assistant dean of women at Howard University. During this period, Height had become the director of the Center for Racial Justice. From 1952 to 1955, she served as consultant to the U.S. Department of Defense Advisory Committee on Women, and like Hedgeman, she had a foot in the academic arena as a visiting professor at the Delhi School of Social Work in Delhi, India.
The same year Black America was celebrating the Brown v. the Board of Education decision in 1954, Hedgeman was jubilant to become the first female member of New York Mayor Robert Wagner’s cabinet. Among her many duties was acting as the civic liaison to Harlem and a representative for the mayor at a number of events when the mayor was unable to attend. When the great jazz musician Charlie Parker died in 1955, Hedgeman was at the funeral on behalf of the mayor.
Throughout the 1950s, Hedgeman’s and Height’s lives inevitably crossed during the conferences and conventions held by the National Urban League and the National Association of Negro Women, where Hedgeman was a prominent member, or the National Council of Negro Women, of which Height became the president in 1957.
A deluge of honors arrived for both women by the 1960s and 1970s. Both were inextricably involved in the Civil Rights Movement, and Height was often considered the only woman in the so-called “Big Six” of Black leadership. In 1978, Hedgeman was saluted by the National Conference of Christian and Jews as one of the “50 Extraordinary Women of Achievement in New York City.” Height received honorary degrees from Harvard University, Tuskegee University and Coppin State College in Baltimore, Md. In 1971, she was awarded the Distinguished Service Award of the National Conference on Social Welfare. Despite their numerous activities and obligations, Hedgeman and Height were prolific speakers and writers. Among Hedgeman’s books are “The Trumpet Sounds” (1964) and “The Gift of Chaos” (1977). Height authored her memoir “Open Wide the Freedom Gates” in 2003.