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Jewish Women in Civil Rights - Florence Howe

Florence Howe
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Florence Howe with stepsons Daniel Lauter (left) and David Lauter and daughter Alice Jackson, Baltimore, 1965-1966. Courtesy of Florence Howe.

Biography

Florence Howe was born on March 17, 1929, in Brooklyn, NY. At Hunter College, Howe confronted injustice by stuffing envelopes for a campaign against Joseph McCarthy and organizing the first interracial/ inter religious sorority in the country, Alpha Omega Pi. After graduating from Hunter College in January 1950, Florence received an M.A. from Smith College and continued doctoral work at the University of Wisconsin.

Florence first became involved in civil rights activities with her students at Goucher College. Having involved her students in civil rights protests in 1963 and 1964, it was these students who ultimately pushed Howe to deepen her commitment to civil rights activism. She went to Mississippi in 1964, using her teaching and organizational skills to coordinate the Blair Street Freedom School in Jackson, Mississippi. In a much more dangerous assignment, she returned the following summer to work on school desegregation for a month in Natchez, a Klan stronghold. At the end of the summer, she adopted a teenage student she had met in Mississippi. This angered her family, who refused to see Florence with her daughter, Alice. In January 1965, the Harvard Educational Review published her essay about the Freedom School and she has since written about how the Mississippi experience was the genesis for her groundbreaking work in women's studies.

In 1966, she moved to Chicago and became involved with Students for a Democratic Society, Clergymen against the War, and the New University Conference. She founded The Feminist Press in 1970 and became the first chair of the Modern Language Association's Commission on the Status of Women. She is currently working on a major project for The Feminist Press on "Women Writing Africa."

Interview

In August 1964, Florence Howe coordinated and taught at the Blair Street Freedom School, one of nine such schools in Jackson. There were more than forty other schools in twenty other towns. She recalls that, initially, she was very impatient with southern culture and the movement's way of doing things:

I couldn't understand why we would talk round and round and round and round and round everything and never make a decision and why everybody spoke very slowly. I wasn't attuned to the South and I couldn't understand why we couldn't get on with things. And I was saying that and Staughton [Lynd] and Howard [Zinn, both historians and the Freedom School Project directors] talked to me each privately to say a) to shut up and b) to have some patience. I was a little nutsy. But you'll seeĀ…. It didn't take me long.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Jewish Women in Civil Rights - Florence Howe." (Viewed on April 23, 2014) <http://jwa.org/discover/infocus/civilrights/howe>.