Women's Africa Committee Records
Scope and Contents of the Collection
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.)