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Haynes, Elizabeth Ross

Elizabeth Ross Haynes (1883 – 1953) – Reformer, Author, Political Activist


Elizabeth Haynes (1883 - 1953)
Elizabeth Haynes
(1883 – 1953)
Photo: Public Domain

In the early twentieth century Progressive era reformers largely ignored the needs of African American women.  Lacking settlement houses and other resources African American reformers such as Elizabeth Ross Haynes turned to one of the few institutions available to them, the YWCA.  Ross Haynes was at the forefront of developing institutional resources for young African American women seeking better employment and living conditions.  Born in Lowndes County, Alabama in 1883, Elizabeth Ross obtained a sterling education culminating with an A.B. from Fisk University in 1903.  She later moved north to New York City where she served as the YWCA’s student secretary for work among black women from 1908 to 1910.  In that capacity she met and married the prominent sociologist George E. Haynes, who co-founded the National Urban League.

Like many African American women Ross Haynes continued her reform work after the birth of her son, George Jr., in 1912.  She continued working with the YWCA, promoting the establishment of new branches to help female migrants find employment and job training.  Recognizing her activism, in 1922 the Y.W.C.A. appointed Haynes to its new Council on Colored Work.  The following year she earned an M.A. in sociology from Columbia University; Haynes’ 1923 Master’s thesis was the most comprehensive study of Black women in America until the 1970s. Shortly thereafter Haynes became the first African American woman appointed to the YWCA’s national board.

By the 1930s some black leaders criticized Ross Haynes for supporting separate programs and facilities for African American women in the segregated YWCA.  Ross Haynes, however, was a pragmatist who argued that the needs of black women superseded the politics of integration.  Her work with the YWCA was influential in the board’s decision to integrate in 1946.

Haynes was a founder and officer of the National League of Republican Colored Women, but spoke out against the racist tactics used by the GOP against Al Smith in the 1928 president campaign. She was among the first black women leaders in the National Association of Colored Women to become a New Deal Democrat and was active in Harlem politics. Haynes became co-leader of Harlem’s Twenty-first Assembly District in 1935, was a member of the colored division of the national Democratic speakers’ bureau by 1936, and in 1937 was the first woman appointed to the State Temporary Commission on the Condition of the Urban Colored Population.

She was a loyal New Deal Democrat and used her intelligence and education to further the cause of black women workers.

In 1952, at age sixty-nine, she finished The Black Boy of Atlanta, a biography of Major Richard Robert Wright, college president and banker. Haynes died on October 26, 1953, in New York City.

For More Information:

Victoria W. Wolcott, Remaking Respectability: African-American Women in Interwar Detroit (University of North Carolina Press, 2001); Paula Giddings, When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America ((Bantam Books, 1984); Darlene Clark Hine, editor, Black Women in America: A Historical Encyclopedia (Carlson Publishing, Inc., Brooklyn, New York, 1993), 548-49.

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How to Cite this Article (APA Format): Wolcott, V. W. (2014). Elizabeth Ross Haynes (1883 – 1953) – Reformer, author, political activist. Social Welfare History Project. Retrieved from