Arguably one of the most important Black figures in the feminist movement has died. Dorothy Pitman Hughes passed away on December 1 at the home of her daughter and son-in-law, Delethia and Jonas Malmsten in Tampa, Florida. She was 84 years old.
Born in 1938 in Lumpkin, Georgia, Hughes was ten years old when her father was brutally attacked and left for dead by what others believed were members of the Ku Klux Klan. That devastating incident inspired her to become a tireless advocate for justice. Hughes’ obituary describes her as a “quiet storm.” “When she saw something that was wrong, Dorothy would not stop until it became right.”
At age 19, Hughes made her way to New York City. In addition to working as a house cleaner and nightclub singer, she also found countless ways to champion important causes in her new community, including raising bail money for civil rights protesters, establishing a multiracial coop daycare center on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and organizing the city’s first battered women’s shelter. The daycare center caught the attention of Gloria Steinem, who profiled it for New York Magazine.
The two became fast friends and fierce advocates for women’s equal rights. Steinem credits Hughes with encouraging her to speak out on the issues in public and being a driving force behind the launch of Ms. Magazine in December 1971.
Rather than focus on domestic duties like how to make the perfect pot roast, Ms. gave feminism a national platform. With groundbreaking headlines like, “Women Tell The Truth About Their Abortions” and “Raising Kids Without Sex Roles.” it was the first national magazine to spotlight presidential candidates on women’s issues.
In 1971, Hughes and Steinem also co-founded Women’s Action Alliance, an organization dedicated to providing “resources to women working to change their lives by overcoming sexism and sex discrimination.”
Gloria Steinem reflected on her long friendship with Hughes in an Instagram post.
“Dorothy Pitman Hughes’ time was too short. But, you’d never know it: from creating the West 80th Community Childcare Center, an innovative and ahead of its time multiracial childcare center, to Harlem’s first bed & breakfast, nothing stopped her. I have been lucky to call Dorothy a friend and lifelong co-conspirator. She encouraged me to speak in public, and we spent years traveling across the country. Her devotion to children’s welfare, racial justice and economic liberation means that she left the world in a better place than she found it.”