Women’s History Month is a declared holiday that has been observed every year since 1988. Each year is marked by a theme that is set by the National Women’s History Project. For 2020, the theme is “Valiant Women of the Vote”. That’s a great idea considering that this is the centennial of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote.

Closer to Home: A Legacy of Teaching and Nurturing from the Harlem Renaissance to the Present

The 19th Amendment is an important milestone in American history and it’s great that we’re taking time during Women’s History Month to recognize its impact on our society. You could say that 1920 marked a turning point in terms of the role that women were allowed to play in our nation’s social, cultural, and political spheres. The 19thAmendment is only the most recognized and enduring example of this.  Here in UB’s birthplace – Harlem, we are the beneficiaries of a legacy of amazing women doing amazing work.

While the right to vote gave women a voice in the political process that has steered our nation, state, and city through the past century—it’s just as important to recognize the important influence that remarkable women have had on our city through other means. From past to present, the Harlem Renaissance has been home to strong women who have made their mark on our society and culture through their work with young people. It’s important to remember them and their work as we celebrate Women’s History Month.

Augusta Savage

Augusta Savage was born in Florida in 1892. By the early 1920s, Savage had relocated to New York City to pursue her work as a sculptor. She became one of the most well-known artists associated with the Harlem Renaissance and sculpted busts of prominent figures like Marcus Garvey and W.E.B. DuBois.

Her most famous sculpture was The Harp, which was commissioned for the 1939 New York World’s Fair. That piece was destroyed at the conclusion of the fair but Savage achieved a much more enduring legacy through her work as a teacher and mentor.

Savage was the first African-American artist to join the National Association of Women Painters and Sculptors. She played a prominent role in the Works Project Administration during the great depression and helped to found the Harlem Artists’ Guild. This allowed her to mentor and influence an entire generation of young artists—including Jacob Lawrence and Norman Lewis.

Clara “Mother” Hale

Clara Hale was born in Philadelphia in 1905 and moved to New York City with her first husband after she graduated from high school. Clara’s upbringing was heavily influenced by the early loss of her father and her mother’s struggle to provide for Clara and her three siblings. In 1927, Clara would find herself in similar circumstances when her own husband died of cancer, leaving her with three children to care for.

Clara Hale cleaned theatres at night and houses during the day to provide for her family. That changed in the 1930s when she became a licensed foster parent and began caring for children in her home. By 1968 she had raised more than 40 foster children in her home but her life’s true purpose was still to come.

In 1969, Clara took in a baby that was born addicted to heroin. Six years later the demand for her help had grown to the point where she could establish Hale House. Hale House became a vital source of love and nurturing for babies and children impacted by both drug addiction and the AIDS epidemic. “Mother” Hale’s success at nurturing the children through crisis earned her the respect of celebrities and politicians—including a mention in Ronald Reagan’s 1985 State of the Union Address.

Remember Hometown Heroes this Women’s History Month

March is National Women’s History Month. This year is special due to the fact that it marks the centennial of women getting the right to vote in this country. While it’s important to acknowledge that milestone in the progress that women have made in our society—it’s just as important to recognize the role that brave and amazing women have played as teachers and nurturers.

Books about the women in this article:
In Her Hands: The Story of Sculptor Augusta Savage by Alan Schroeder & JaeMe Bereal
Clara Hale: Mother to Those Who Needed One by Bob Italia

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Michelle Caines
Author: Michelle Caines

Co-creator of Uptown Birdies, Michelle is Harlem born mother of three with a passion for anything educational, and good eats. She enjoys hunting down affordable kid-friendly events within upper Manhattan. Social handle: @mscaines