ST. PETERSBURG, FLA.-
Civil rights icon Dr. Dorothy Irene Height (1912-2010) was known for her courage, intelligence, leadership, standing straightand hats. The 42 hats in the exhibition, organized by the MFA
, have been borrowed from The Dorothy I. Height Education Foundation, Inc. in Washington, D.C.
Dorothy Heights Hats opens Saturday, April 29, and continues through Sunday, July 23, in the second-floor gallery.
These examples reveal Dr. Heights flair for fashion. She was almost never seen in public without a hat, and this exhibition spotlights many of her favorites. She formed a close friendship with African American milliner Vanilla Bean in Washington, D.C., who designed many hats for her appearances and speeches. In fact, when Dr. Height called with a request, her friend was known to drop everything and to select or create a hat especially for her.
Dr. Height favored African American hat-makersand no wonder. They have been some of Americas most talented, carrying on the rich tradition of womens hats in African American culture. Over the years, African American women have worn their finest hats to church on Sunday, as well as to social events, meetings, and special occasions.
One hat in the exhibition is by Harriet Rosebud, a noted milliner who grew up in
St. Petersburg. She wore others by such fashion luminaries as Oscar de la Renta, Mr. John, Lisa Rene, Luke Song, and Ruth Kropveld, who established Chapeau Creations.
A number are full of history. She wore a vintage white mink hat at a meeting with Eleanor Roosevelt in 1938; a white, with red, white, and blue brim, at the 2008 Democratic National Convention that nominated President Barack Obama; and an aqua blue, with feather flowers, when she received the 2004 Congressional Gold Medal from President George W. Bush. President Bill Clinton had previously awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1994. These are the countrys highest civilian honors.
Recognitionand strugglecame early. She was the only African American contestant in a national oratory contest, sponsored by the Elks, won first place, and received a full college scholarship. She was admitted to Barnard College, but upon arrival, was told by a dean that the quota of two African American students a year had already been met. Discouraged, but not defeated, Dr. Height promptly took her Barnard acceptance letter to New York University where she later earned both her BA and MA. She pursued further postgraduate study at Columbia University.
During the course of her life, she received 36 honorary doctorates. In 2004, Barnard College commemorated the 50th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education, which moved our public schools toward integration. On this occasion, the college named her an honorary alumna, 75 years after turning her away.
Dr. Height was President of the National Council of Negro Women for 40 years and was one of the leaders in the early civil rights movement. She was usually the only woman on stage. In 1963, she sat near Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when he made his I Have a Dream Speech, but was not invited to speak to the crowd. She later became part of the struggle for womens rights, joining forces with Shirley Chisholm, Gloria Steinem, and others. She was also active in Delta Sigma Theta Sorority throughout her life and served as national President from 1947-1956.
She was given a place of prominence at the 2009 inauguration of President Obama, who called her the godmother of the civil rights movement and a hero to so many Americans.
Dr. Dorothy Heightand her hatshave played a momentous role in American history.