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Aileen C. Hernandez papers

Identifier: SSC-MS-00730

Scope and Contents

The Aileen C. Hernandez papers document decades of activism by a Black woman within the civil rights and feminist movements of the mid-20th and early 21st century. The collection contains the records of her professional involvement in dozens of activist and community-based organizations, including Black Women Organized for Action (BWOA), the National Organization for Women (NOW), and the National Urban Coalition (NUC). Materials also include the records of Hernandez’s urban affairs and management consulting firm Aileen C. Hernandez and Associates (ACHA), her work as a commissioner of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and records of Hernandez’s personal life, including papers related to her family and her time as a student at Howard University.

Hernandez’s papers illuminate the relationship between the racial justice and feminist movements, documenting diversity and racism present within the Women's movement, as well as the experiences of a Black woman within the civil rights movement. The papers reflect Hernandez’s unique perspective born of working for racial and gender equality through her employment within the government, her professional life as an urban consultant working with corporations, and her membership in numerous grassroots organizations.

Materials include photographs, photo albums, and scrapbooks of Hernandez, her friends, and her family; recordings of organization meetings, interviews with Hernandez, and other events; correspondence between Hernandez and her friends, her family, the clients of Aileen C. Hernandez Associates, members of organizations Hernandez was involved in, and members of Congress; research reports produced by organizations on topics such as racial or economic equality; newsletters produced by organizations Hernandez was involved in (particularly Black Women Organized For Action and the National Organization for Women); and multiple versions of speeches and articles written by Hernandez.

The collection includes the responses and summary reports of multiple questionnaires and surveys produced by Hernandez or her business, Aileen C. Hernandez Associates. These documents can be found in both Series 2 and 3 and may be of particular interest. Series 8 consists of small press publications collected by Hernandez or other members of ACHA that were produced by groups that she was not directly involved in. These documents, along with the newsletters in Series 2 Subseries A (Black Women Organized For Action’s newsletter “What It Is…”) and Series 2 Subseries C (the National Organization for Women’s numerous newsletters and publications), may also be of interest.

Dates of Materials

  • Creation: 1926 - 2014


Language of Materials

Primarily English, a small portion is in Spanish.

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

To the extent that she owned copyright, Aileen Hernandez assigned the copyright of her works to Smith College; however, copyright in other items in this collection may be held by their respective creators. 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. For instances which may regard materials in the collection not created by Aileen Hernandez, 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

Aileen C. Hernandez (1926-2017) was a Black feminist known for her roles as an original Commissioner of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and as the second president of the National Organization for Women (NOW). She was an active member of more than 100 activist and community-based organizations concerned with racial justice, women’s equality, economic equity, fair housing, education, and other social issues.

Aileen Blanche Clarke (later Hernandez) was born in Brooklyn, New York on May 23, 1926 to Jamaican immigrants Ethel Hall Clarke and Charles Clarke. After graduating from Bay Ridge High School as Salutatorian in 1943, Hernandez enrolled at Howard University, a historically black university in Washington, DC. In 1943, DC was still a segregated city, and Hernandez responded to the experience of living there by joining the university's National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) chapter and walking picket lines at DCs theaters and restaurants. In 1947, she graduated from Howard Magna Cum Laude with a degree in sociology and political science and went to Norway to do graduate work in comparative government at the University of Oslo. After her return to the United States, Hernandez enrolled in graduate school at New York University. While there in 1951, she was hired by the International Ladies' Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) Training Institute, where she worked for eleven years as an organizer and educator, primarily in the Union's Pacific Coast Region, based in Los Angeles. There, in 1957, she married Alfonso Hernandez, a garment cutter. The marriage ended in 1961, the same year that Hernandez received her master's degree, summa cum laude, in government from Los Angeles State College.

Leaving the ILGWU in late 1961, Hernandez joined Democrat Alan Cranston’s campaign for California State Comptroller as the political campaign coordinator (he would later work on his 1984 presidential campaign as well). In 1962, Hernandez was appointed Assistant Chief of the California Division of Fair Employment where she worked until 1965, when President Johnson appointed her as the only female Commissioner of the newly-established Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC was established to enforce the provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that outlawed discrimination in employment on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. However, Hernandez resigned from the EEOC after 18 months, frustrated by the Commission’s hesitation to pursue cases of sex-based discrimination. In 1967, she opened her own business, Hernandez Associates, an urban affairs and management consulting firm that helped government agencies and companies assess and implement anti-descrimination programs.

In 1967 Hernandez accepted a position as Vice President of the newly-formed National Organization for Women (NOW). She was later elected President of NOW, succeeding Betty Friedan and serving from March 1970 to September 1971. Hernandez continued to be involved with the organization after her presidency, later serving as Chair-one of the National Advisory Committee (1971-1972) and co-founding the Task Force on Minority Women and Women’s Rights (1973-1974). However, after NOW’s annual conference in 1979, Hernandez distanced herself from the organization and publicly criticized them for electing all-white national officers for the second year in a row. In 1973 she co-founded Black Women Organized for Action, one of the first organizations dedicated to the intersecting issues of racial and gender equality. Hernandez later co-founded additional organizations focused on Black women, including the National Hook-Up of Black Women, Sapphire Publishing Company, Bay Area Black Women United, and Black Women Stirring the Waters. Hernandez also served on multiple boards, including the Ms. Foundation for Women, the National Urban Coalition, and the Coalition for Economic Equity. Herandez was active well into her eighties, serving as chair of the California Women's Agenda (CAWA), before passing away on February 13, 2017 at age 90.


112.475 linear feet (117 containers)


Aileen C. Hernandez (1926-2017) was a Black feminist known for her roles as an original Commissioner of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and as the second president of the National Organization for Women (NOW). She was an active member of more than 100 activist and community-based organizations concerned with racial justice, women’s equality, economic equity, fair housing, education, and other social issues. The Aileen C. Hernandez papers document decades of activism by a Black woman within the civil rights and feminist movements of the mid-20th and early 21st century.


The distinction between organizations that hired Aileen C. Hernandez Associates for specific projects (Series 3, Subseries A) and organizations that Hernadez was involved with separate from her consulting work (Series 2) is not always clear and there is therefore some overlap between these parts of the collection.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

As a preservation measure, researchers must use digital copies of audiovisual materials in this collection. Please consult with Special Collections staff or email to request the creation of and access to digital copies.

This collection contains materials received from the donor in digital form that are not currently available online. Please consult with Special Collections staff to request access to this digital content.

Custodial History

Hernandez was in conversation with Joyce C. Follet (Coordinator for Collection Development at the Sophia Smith Collection) and Gloria Steinem about placing her papers at the Sophia Smith Collection starting in 2002.

In late August 2014, Gloria Steinem alerted Smith College Special Collections that Aileen C. Hernandez’s home was shortly to be sold and her papers were in danger of being lost. Within a week, Smith had contracted with Sharon Davenport, a freelance archivist in the San Francisco Bay area, to appraise the papers at Hernandez’s home and supervise their packing and shipment to Smith. All material had to be out of the house in barely ten days. She was asked to “cull books, plaques and the like, and other non-archival materials (to the extent that this is possible under time pressure).”

Davenport, who hired Lenn Keller to assist once she realized the scale of the task, worked with Hernandez’s friends Belva Davis and Francee Covington to select and pack material. Despite the short deadline, 187 boxes were shipped to Smith (some of them identified by the room they came from) before time ran out. The great bulk of the unique materials were saved, as most of what was left behind were books, posters, and artwork.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated by Aileen C. Hernandez, 2014.


53.6 linear feet of duplicates, reference material (publications, clippings, etc.) about broad topics or from organizations Hernandez was not directly involved with, routine office files (receipts, utility bills, mailing lists, etc.), and fragments were discarded during processing in Summer 2022. Publications from small organizations were retained to create Series 8. Clippings and other items with comments by Hernandez or another member of Aileen C. Hernandez Associates were also kept. In addition, large sets of federal and state government reports from projects Hernandez worked on (such as the National Academy of Engineering’s BART Impact Study) were heavily weeded, with only reports specific to her role or providing overviews of the project retained.

Related Materials

Additional records of organizations in the Aileen C. Hernandez Papers can be found in other collections. The Records of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) are in the National Archives, the National Urban Coalition Papers are at the Wisconsin Historical Society, the International Ladies Garment Workers Union Records are located at Cornell University, the Black Women Stirring the Waters Collection can be found at the African American Museum and Library at Oakland, and the Papers of the National Organization for Women are at the Schlesinger Library.

Related materials can also be found in the Sophia Smith Collection, such as the Dolores Alexander Papers , the Ms. Foundation for Women Records , and the Third World Women’s Alliance Bay Area chapter records.

In addition, Schlesinger Library holds the records of other members of NOW, including Betty Friedan, Dolores Alexander, Ti Grace Atkinson, Florynce Kennedy, Muriel Fox, , Wilma Scott Heide, and Ann Scott. The Gene Boyer Papers can be found in the Wisconsin Historical Society.

Separated Materials

An audiotape of Hernandez being interviewed by Patricia Bell-Scott was transferred to the latter in March 2022, due to a pre-existing agreement between Hernandez and Bell-Scott that gives Bell-Scott title to the taped interview between herself and Hernandez, as well as any subsequent transcripts. The agreement also limits Hernandez's right to provide access to this tape to anyone else.

Processing Information

Accessioned by Kathleen Banks Nutter, 2015. Accessioning involved foldering loose material and creating a very rough inventory of the collection, with a detailed inventory for audiovisual recordings.

In 2022, the collection was processed by Collections Archivist Dan Michelson and student assistants Grace Phippard, Vivian DeRosa, Beata Knecht, and Grace Hartley. The team followed a modified version of a processing plan written by Processing Archivist Madison White in 2019. Due to lack of organization, inaccurate folder labels, and significant duplication, nearly the entire collection had to be reviewed and sorted at the item level. In addition, nearly all of the collection was refoldered. Discarding low-value material reduced the collection from 166 to 112.5 linear feet and the collection was arranged primarily by organizations that Hernandez worked with and projects that her consulting firm carried out. Organizations with large amounts of material, such as the National Organization for Women (NOW) received additional arrangement and description. Aside from the audiovisual recordings, the entire collection was described from scratch.

The contents of computer media in this collection has been copied to networked storage for preservation and access; the original directory and file structure was retained and file lists were created.

Genre / Form



Finding aid to the Aileen C. Hernandez papers
Dan Michelson, Grace Phippard, and Vivian DeRosa
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 (
  • 2017-07-26T17:48:24-04:00: This record was migrated from InMagic DB Textworks to ArchivesSpace.
  • 2020-06-30: Description added for born-digital content.
  • 2022-03-15: Updated Conditions Governing Use to match what is is in the deed
  • 2022-08-16: Updated to reflect processing

Repository Details

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

Neilson Library
7 Neilson Drive
Northampton MA 01063