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On this date in 1892, Irene M. Gaines was born. She was a Black civil rights reformer devoted to her race, especially Black women and young people.
Born Irene McCoy, she was from Ocala, Florida. Her older sister died while she was a child. She was taken to Chicago and raised by her mother after a family divorce. McCoy graduated from Wendell Phillips High School and attended Fisk Normal School (now Fisk University) from 1905-1910.
In 1914, she married Harris B. Gaines and they had two sons. Through her own experiences and those of others (particularly in the juvenile court system), she understood the needs and problems of Blacks in America. Gaines joined the War Camp Community Service during World War I and became the secretary of the first Black branch of the YWCA in Chicago in 1920.
She also worked in the welfare department for Cook County from 1930 to 1945 and served as president of the Chicago Council of Negro Organizations (CCNO) from 1939 to 1953. Gaines saw the need for change through legislation. She was the first Black woman to run for a state legislative seat and was (in 1950) the first Black woman to run for the county commissioner’s office. Though she lost both elections, she gained much credibility. She received many awards for her efforts over the years, including the George Washington Honor Medal in 1958 and the Fisk University Distinguished Alumni Service Award in 1959.
Irene McCoy Gaines died in Chicago on April 7, 1964.
Black Women in America An Historical Encyclopedia
Volumes 1 and 2, edited by Darlene Clark Hine
Copyright 1993, Carlson Publishing Inc., Brooklyn, New York