Skip to main content

Aileen C. Hernandez papers

Identifier: SSC-MS-00730

Scope and Contents

The Aileen C. Hernandez Papers documents the activist's life, particularly from the 1960s onward, and includes correspondence, reports, research notes, surveys, audiovisual materials in multiple formats, and newspaper clippings. There is also material related to the various projects undertaken by Hernandez Associates, comprising correspondence, reports, and research materials.

Dates of Materials

  • 1926 - 2014


Conditions Governing Access

This collection will be processed starting on April 19, 2022. During that time, all contents of the finding aid are subject to change and researcher access may be limited. Contact Special Collections for details.

This collection is open for use with following restrictions on access:

Three folders of financial, medical and sensitive material are closed.

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 Blanche Clarke Hernandez was born in Brooklyn, New York on May 23, 1926. She is the daughter of Ethel Hall Clarke, a talented seamstress, and Charles Clarke, Sr., an art supply executive. Both of her parents were Jamaican immigrants who instilled in Aileen and her two brothers a sense of fairness and the ambition to achieve all that they could in life. While the children were growing up, the Clarke family resided in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn, at that time predominantly white. While Hernandez would later recall that her parents mentioned some initial "problems" as the only black family when they first moved there, it was not until she went to Howard University in Washington, DC, after graduating from the then all-girls Bay Ridge High School in 1943, that she first experienced institutional racism.

The nation's capital was then still very much a segregated city. Hernandez's response was to join the university's NAACP chapter and walk picket lines at the city's theaters and restaurants. She graduated from Howard, magna cum laude in 1947 with a degree in sociology and political science. While in college, Hernandez engaged in many extracurricular activities in addition to her involvement with the NAACP. She was part of the dance group, the drama club and editor of the student newspaper in her junior and senior years while also writing a regular column on the university for the Washington Tribune. After graduation she went to Norway and, through the International Student Exchange program, did graduate work in comparative government at the University of Oslo. After her return to the United States, Hernandez worked as a research assistant for one of her former professors at Howard before enrolling in graduate school at New York University. While there, she stumbled across an ad for an internship with the International Ladies' Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) Training Institute. Hired in 1951, Hernandez would spend the next eleven years with the ILGWU as an organizer, educator, and doing public relations, 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 Aileen Clarke Hernandez received her master's degree, summa cum laude, in government.

Leaving the ILGWU in late 1961, Hernandez joined the Alan Cranston campaign for California State Controller as the political campaign coordinator. A year later, she was appointed Assistant Chief of the California Division of Fair Employment. In 1965 Hernandez was the only woman appointed to the newly created United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), a Great Society initiative to combat unfair labor policies on the basis of race and gender. Soon frustrated by the lack of enforcement powers at the EEOC and the rest of the commission's unwillingness to pursue a case against the nation's airlines over their discriminatory practices with regard to flight attendants, Hernandez would be one of the founding members in late 1966 of the National Organization for Women (NOW). She left the EEOC, returned to her home in San Francisco and served as Western Vice President of NOW, at the same time opening her own business, Hernandez Associates, an urban affairs and management consulting firm. Hernandez served as national president of NOW for one year, succeeding co-founder and first president, Betty Friedan.

A gifted speaker and skillful organizer, Hernandez would be active in the fight for racial and gender equality, on both the local and national levels, for the next several decades. In 1973 she co-founded the San Francisco Bay Area Black Women Organized for Action and, later, Black Women Stirring the Waters. She served on multiple boards, including the Ms. Foundation for Women, the National Urban League, and the Coalition for Economic Equity. Well into her eighties, Hernandez remained active, serving as chair of the California Women's Agenda (CAWA), an outgrowth of the 1995 Beijing Conference, which she had attended. In 2005, she was one of a thousand women nominated globally for the Nobel Peace Prize and has earned numerous other awards in honor of her seemingly tireless efforts on behalf of women and people of color.


166.08 linear feet (157 containers)

1.22 Gigabytes

Language of Materials


Spanish; Castilian


Comprised of correspondence, reports, research notes, surveys, audiovisual materials, and newspaper clippings from the papers of Aileen C. Hernandez, activist and civic leader. These papers document the life of Aileen C. Hernandez, activist and civic leader.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

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.

Other Finding Aids

A more detailed listing of what is included in this group of materials is available in this downloadable document: inventory to the Aileen C. Hernandez papers.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The papers of Aileen C. Hernandez were donated to the Sophia Smith Collection in 2014.

Related Materials

Related materials may be found in the following collection:

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.

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.

Aileen C. Hernandez papers
Finding Aid
Finding aid prepared by .
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 isn the deed

Repository Details

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

Neilson Library
7 Neilson Drive
Northampton MA 01063