Why it's a huge deal that Dorothy Height's face will soon be on a postage stamp.

You probably haven’t heard of Dorothy Height, but you should definitely get to know who she was.    

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

An often-forgotten figure in civil rights history, Height helped change the lives of black Americans and women everywhere. Now, she is being honored with her very own postage stamp in 2017. Height joins an impressive list of honorees in the U.S. Postal Service's Black Heritage stamp series, including Harriet Tubman, Alvin Ailey, and James Baldwin.  


Because of Height’s gender, she, like many other women during the civil rights era, is often left out of history books. But ever the modest citizen, Height focused on the cause as opposed to the accolades: "You will accomplish a great deal if you do not worry about who will get the credit,” Height wrote in her 2003 memoir.

During Height’s 98 years on Earth, the unsung hero did a lot of amazing things. But four achievements really stand out:

1. She was the president of the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) for 40 years.    

Height led the nonprofit from 1957 to 1998, dedicating her leadership to advancing opportunities for women of color. Height was placed in the role during the peak of the Civil Rights movement, a daunting task during a time of racial violence. She offered up the NCNW headquarters as a meeting place for national organizers and participants in the historic 1963 March on Washington.

She also helped organize and launch a project called “Wednesday in Mississippi.” The successful project brought racially mixed groups of women together to visit rural areas of Mississippi and encourage voter registration among black citizens and foster dialogue across various groups of people. During Height’s tenure, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1994.

Photo by Stephen Jaffe/AFP/Getty Images

2. Height helped form the African-American Women for Reproductive Freedom organization.

In 1989, Height, along with 16 African-American women and one man signed a declaration that supported pro-choice reproductive rights. In 1990, Height was also essential in creating a reproductive rights organization as a way for African-American women to show their support for Roe v. Wade.

3. She also helped found the Women's Political Caucus.

Working tirelessly to create systems where women could empower themselves, Height helped found the National Women's Political Caucus (NWPC), a grass roots organization designed to increase women's participation in the political process. Found in 1971, the organization focuses on recruiting, vetting, and training women who are looking to get elected in local and national elections.

Photo by Express Newspapers/Getty Images

4. Oh, and she counseled presidents on how to best help black women too.

After being barred from attending Barnard College because of a racial quota (a university Height later received an honorary degree from), Height studied at New York University and Columbia University and obtained a bachelor's degree and a master's degree.

Her education and work ethic was recognized by many in the national government, leading Height to meet with political figures and civil rights leaders like Eleanor Roosevelt and Bill Clinton. Since then, she's counseled a number of presidents, including Dwight D. Eisenhower and Bill Clinton, on how to best assist black women during a changing world. Height was likely one of the first people to understand the concept of intersectionality, and she worked to expand alliance among people with various identities and backgrounds because of that.

Height meets Michele Obama. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images  

Height's life shows us that the work of fighting for a better America is never over, but always necessary.

Her incredible accomplishments deserve more recognition than they've received, and this postage stamp honor is a step towards doing so.

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When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

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This article originally appeared on 03.19.15


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