“I want to be remembered as someone who used herself and anything she could touch to work for justice and freedom. I want to be remembered as one who tried.” – Dorothy Height
March is Women’s History Month, commemorating and encouraging the study, observance, and celebration of the vital role of women in American history. It is celebrated during March in the United States.
This March, we celebrate the life and legacy of Dorothy Height, who trailblazed the intersection of gender and race activism within the civil rights movement and with YWCA USA, and the life and legacy of a hometown YWCA heroine, Muriel Rice, a driving force behind building the facility here at 909 Fairfield Road.
Born in Richmond, Virginia, on March 24, 1912, Dorothy Irene Height became, for many, an example of a life of service. In high school, she began her activism, participating in anti-lynching campaigns of the 1920s. After attending New York University and Columbia University, Height became a social worker and transformed that career into one as an activist for civil and women’s rights.
After her first job as a social worker in Harlem, Dorothy began working at YWCA Harlem in 1937. Over the next 40 years, she rose high in YW’s national organization. During her tenure, she influenced YWCA to become actively involved in the Civil Rights Movement by serving as a sponsoring agency of the 1963 March on Washington. She pushed to end YWCA’s practice of separate conferences — one for Black leaders and another for Whites — and traveled the country helping local chapters implement the organization’s interracial charter. In 1965, she was appointed as the National Director of the Center for Racial Justice and tirelessly worked within YWCA to desegregate all levels of the organization.
Muriel Larsen Rice was born on November 12, 1921, in Staten Island, NY. Upon her return to Gettysburg in 1954, Mrs. Rice, although busy with a still-growing family, began her lifelong and active engagement with her Community. She served as a Gettysburg Area School Board member and a Girl Scout troop leader; she was one of the first women serving on the Christ Lutheran Church Council, helped establish the Adams County Family Planning & Health Center, and served on the Board of the Adams County Mental Health Association. In addition, she was the first president of the Adams County Council Drug & Alcohol Abuse.
After her early involvement as Y-Teen Chairman at the Gettysburg YWCA, Mrs. Rice coordinated and led the campaign to build the YWCA Family recreation center. She later chaired a capital campaign to add children’s daycare, community education, and new fitness facilities to the YWCA Recreation Center. Mrs. Rice was president of the YWCA Board of Directors for 12 years.
Her many honors included The Benjamin Rush award for “Outstanding health services,” the YWCA Outstanding Volunteer Award, the Soroptimist Woman of the Year award, the Dean Tilberg Outstanding Volunteer Award presented by the United Way of Adams County, the Outstanding Citizen Award from the Gettysburg-Adams County Area Chamber of Commerce, and the Callie Legacy of a Lifetime Award for her five decades of community service in 2006.
As the Advocacy Director at the YWCA Gettysburg & Adams County, I feel privileged to have gotten acquainted with numerous women who have inspired me and encouraged me in my commitment to community service. Dorothy Height and Muriel are two that I never met in person but who have inspired me through their life stories.
Muriel Rice once said, “It’s the W in YWCA that makes the difference.” I would agree.
Nancy Lilley is Advocacy Director and Interim Executive Director at YWCA Gettysburg and Adams County.