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Sun, 10.02.1938

Dorothy Pittman Hughes, Women’s and Family Activist born

Dorothy Pittman Hughes

*Dorothy Pitman Hughes on this date in 1938. she was a Black feminist, child-welfare advocate, activist, public speaker, author, and small business owner.

Dorothy Jean Ridley was born in Lumpkin, Georgia. When she was ten years old, her father was beaten and left for dead on the family's doorstep by the Ku Klux Klan members. Pitman Hughes decided as a child; she would devote her life to improving people's lives through activism. She moved from Georgia to New York City in 1957. Through the 1960s in New York, she worked as a salesperson, house cleaner, and nightclub singer.

She began her activism by raising bail money for civil rights protesters. In the late 1960s, needing care for her children (by 1970, she had three daughters), Pitman Hughes organized a multiracial cooperative daycare center called the West 80th Community Childcare Center, which New York Magazine columnist Gloria Steinem profiled. She and Steinem became friends, with Pitman Hughes encouraging Steinem to begin speaking in public with her about the Women's Movement. The two traveled around the country for two years, sharing the stage. Based on the duo's publicity, Pitman Hughes and Steinem founded a female-operated media source, Ms. Magazine.

Pitman Hughes organized the first shelter for battered women in New York City. She co-founded the New York City Agency for Child Development, pioneering childcare and noting that "too many women had to leave their children home alone while they worked to feed their families."Pitman Hughes also co-founded with Steinem the Women's Action Alliance, a pioneering national information center specializing in nonsexist, multiracial children's education, in 1971. The two women toured together, speaking about race, class, and gender throughout the 1970s. Pitman Hughes and Steinem are pictured together in an iconic black and white photograph published in Ms. Magazine in October 1971; both are signaling their feminist solidarity by raising their fists in the raised-fist salute ala the Black Power movement. 

In 1972, Pitman Hughes was a signer of the Ms. campaign "We Have Had Abortions," which called for an end to "archaic laws" limiting reproductive freedom; they encouraged women to share their stories and act. She has been a guest lecturer at Columbia University, taught a course called "The Dynamics of Change" at the College of New Rochelle, and is a guest lecturer at City College, Manhattan. In 1992, Pitman Hughes co-founded the Charles Junction Historical Preservation Society in Jacksonville, Florida, using the former Junction homestead to combat poverty through community gardening and food production.

Pitman Hughes was involved in the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone (UMEZ), a federal program instituted by the Clinton administration in 1994, designating $300 million of federal, state, and city money for the economic development of Harlem. Pitman Hughes was part of the research team that created the Business Resource and Investment Service Center (BRISC), which focused on developing small, locally owned businesses in Harlem.

However, Pitman Hughes later became a critic. The programs brought large businesses like Old Navy and Disney into Harlem to create jobs but created more competition for locally-owned businesses. "Some are convinced that empowering large corporations to provide low-paying jobs for our residents will bring economic empowerment to the community. [But] without African American ownership, there is ultimately no local empowerment," stated Pitman Hughes, believing BRISC's resources were unevenly distributed among small businesses in Harlem. Pitman Hughes later wrote Just Saying. It Looks Like Ethnic Cleansing (The Gentrification of Harlem) advises African American business owners who might want to utilize similar government programs such as the JOBS Act of 2012.

Pitman Hughes pointed to the unlikely nature of their friendship at the time, admitting the terror she felt of being seen in public with a white woman in her hometown of Lumpkin, Georgia when Steinem would visit. In 2017, Pitman Hughes commissioned photographer Dan Bagan to recreate an homage portrait of the two friends together again in a similar pose for the Ms. edition on Steinem's 80th birthday.

Pitman Hughes and Steinem spoke again in 2008 at Eckerd College, where they reenacted their raised fist pose together. Steinem partnered in Pitman Hughes' efforts in the Northside community of Jacksonville, Florida, to combat hunger with community gardens by appearing as a speaker and funding support. On December 1, 2022, Dorothy Pitman Hughes passed peacefully in Tampa, Florida, at her family's home.

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