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Women's Africa Committee records

Identifier: SSC-MS-00318

Scope and Contents

The Women's Africa Committee Records consist of half a linear foot of documents received from board member and chairwoman Zelia Ruebhausen. The small collection dates from 1958 to 1978 and includes administrative records, bylaws, brochures, publicity, project files, publications, newspaper clippings, correspondence, reports, and photographs.

The bulk of the collection documents the Community Service Program, in which African leaders participated in women's volunteer and educational efforts in various American locales. These records illuminate American efforts at cultural exchange with the emerging independent African nations, particularly as they affected clubwomen in the U.S. and participating women community leaders from a range of countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Situated in a time period in which the U.S. government sought to counteract potential Communist influence on international perceptions of the U.S. but before the widespread adoption of pan-African identity among black Americans, the efforts of the Women's Africa Committee reflect both New Frontier-style cosmopolitanism and a tradition of women's club's outreach efforts. Such initiatives blended the interests of white and black clubwomen to aid their counterparts from across the globe. Although the records reveal much more of the viewpoints and attitudes of the committee women than of the African women who were served by the programs, writings from both administrators and participants describe the process and enduring impact of cross-cultural education.

Publications from the organization include educational materials such as a bibliography on African women as well as more analytical writings like "Do's and Dont's for Conducting Programs in Africa" and Women in Modern Africa, an assessment of the changing social and familial roles of African women amidst the major political and economic shifts of the mid-twentieth century. A small folder of hostile public response material contains a broadside of racist invective and a critical article from the African American press. Project files document three different programs and contain a variety of materials. The Community Service Program is most comprehensively documented and consists of planning materials, memoranda, and reports from program participants and administrators. Participants' reports to the Women's Africa Committee and memoranda regarding participants' adjustment experiences capture both the difficulties and rewards cultural exchange. Materials from the Leadership Training Program are minimal but include a similarly revealing memorandum. The Women in Development fact-finding trip undertaken by Zelia Ruebhausen and Bonnie Schultz in 1978 is documented by reports, typed notes of meetings with community leaders and educators, plus notes on follow-up meetings with former project participants.

The three scrapbooks were compiled for Zelia Ruebhausen to commemorate her service on the Board of Directors, and they contain many items of interest. They include minutes from the first meetings of the Africa Program Committee and its reorganization under the auspices of the African-American Institute; publications; African and American newspaper clippings; and memoranda, reports, clippings, and photographs of the Community Service Projects from 1962 to 1966. They feature a rich collection of photographs of program participants engaged in activities designed for their introduction to American culture ranging from farm tours and fashion shows to classroom scenes. In addition to program participants, photographs include images of Zelia Ruebhausen, G. Mennen Williams, Miriam Makeba, and Margaret Kenyatta. (Note: materials were removed from original scrapbook binders and placed in folders for preservation purposes.)

Dates of Materials

  • 1958-1978


Language of Materials


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research use without restriction beyond the standard terms and conditions of Smith College Special Collections.

Conditions Governing Use

Materials in this collection may be governed by copyright. For reproductions of materials that are governed by fair use as defined under U. S. Copyright Law, no permission to cite or publish is required. Researchers are responsible for determining who may hold materials' copyrights and obtaining approval from them. Researchers do not need anything further from Smith College Special Collections to move forward with their use.

Biographical / Historical

In 1958 representatives of women's organizations and women active in the U.S. State Department's overseas outreach efforts formed the Africa Program Committee in order to coordinate existing efforts of women's projects in Africa and emphasize "working with women in new ways, making use of new patterns with full recognition of the indigenous ways of the people." While professionals in the U.S. State Department participated in the founding, early organizers endeavored to establish the Committee as a non-governmental entity. Upon affiliation with the African-American Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that sponsored educational opportunities for African students, the Africa Program Committee was renamed the Women's Africa Committee. The name change reflected the organization's interest in programs designed for African women in particular.

The early efforts of the Women's Africa Committee targeted the wives of diplomats of the newly independent nations. They provided assistance to ease the transition into everyday life in the United States. Their programming soon became more ambitious, and they sought to foster cultural and educational exchange between the U.S. and Africa. Advisors, board members, and officers of the group included such eminent professionals and clubwomen as Dorothy Height, Dorothy Ferebee, Jeanne Noble, and Lorraine Hansberry. Zelia Ruebhausen, active in the League of Women Voters and the United Nations and a visitor to Africa, worked closely with the organization as a volunteer and chairman of the board, and she shepherded some of the group's more enduring programs. With private funding as well as financial assistance from the State Department, the Summer Leadership Scholarship Program provided young African women studying in U.S. universities training and fieldwork for instituting community development programs toward the end of helping them establish programs to meet community needs in their homelands. The Community Service Program addressed the educational needs of established women community leaders. It aided women of different regions each year by sponsoring their travel to the U.S. and providing homestays for women to observe and participate in different American women's organizations. For example, a Ugandan teacher stayed in Dubuque, Iowa, and worked with the 4-H club. Institutions like the Girl Scouts, nursing homes, and churches throughout the country worked with program participants to introduce them to American community projects and volunteer efforts.

In 1978, Zelia Ruebhausen and Bonnie Schultz, an African-American Institute staff member, toured Africa on a fact-finding mission for the Institute, which sought to initiate training programs for women in Africa. Although the Women's Africa Committee no longer exists, the African-American Institute, now known as the Africa-America Institute, continues to provide educational and training resources to African students.


0.438 linear feet (1 container)


Intercultural exchange organization. This small collection contains the records of Zelia Ruebhausen, former chair of the Women's Africa Committee, and includes publications, correspondence, reports, minutes, photographs, scrapbooks, "case histories," and clippings. The records focus on their Community Service Program, in which participating African community leaders participated in American women's volunteer and educational efforts. The records illuminate American efforts at cultural exchange with the emerging independent African nations.

Custodial History

Unfortunately, prior to Ruebhausen donating these materials to the Sophia Smith Collection, most records of the organization were destroyed in a warehouse fire.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Zelia Ruebhausen (1914-1990) donated her records of the Women's Africa Committee to the Sophia Smith Collection in 1987.

Related Materials

Researchers interested in the outreach efforts of the Women’s Africa Committee may wish also to consult the records of the Committee of Correspondence, an internationally oriented non-governmental organization that operated in the same time period.

Processing Information

Preliminary processing done by Amanda Izzo, 2005.


Women's Africa Committee records
Finding Aid
Amanda Izzo
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 07/26/2017: This resource was modified by the ArchivesSpace Preprocessor developed by the Harvard Library (
  • 2017-07-26T17:48:12-04:00: This record was migrated from InMagic DB Textworks to ArchivesSpace.

Repository Details

Part of the Sophia Smith Collection of Women's History Repository

Neilson Library
7 Neilson Drive
Northampton MA 01063