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Fannie Burroughs and James Height had two children together, Dorothy and her sister Anthanette.
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Height's mother was active in the Pennsylvania Federation of Colored Women's Clubs and regularly took Dorothy along to meetings where she early established her "place in the sisterhood." Height's long association with the YWCA began in a Girl Reserve Club in Rankin organized under the auspices of the Pittsburgh YWCA. From 1934-37, Height worked in the New York City Department of Welfare, an experience she credited with teaching her the skills to deal with conflict without intensifying it.
An enthusiastic participant, who was soon elected President of the Club, Height was appalled to learn that her race barred her from swimming in the pool at the central YWCA branch. I had never heard of 'social action,' nor seen anyone engaged in it, but I barely took a breath before saying that I would like to see the executive director," Height related in her 2003 memoir. From there she moved to a job as a counselor at the YWCA of New York City, Harlem Branch, in the fall of 1937.
In her role as its first Director, Height helped to monitor the Association's progress toward full integration, kept abreast of the civil rights movement, facilitated "honest dialogue," aided the Association in making best use of its African-American leadership (both volunteer and staff), and helped in their recruitment and retention.
Shortly before she retired from the YWCA in 1977, Height was elected as an honorary national board member, a lifetime appointment.
Dorothy Irene Height was born March 24, 1912 in Richmond, Virginia to Fannie Burroughs and James Height.