By the mid-twentieth century, women in New Orleans were taking a more direct leadership role in both social justice reform and politics.

During the 1960s in New Orleans, race relations, civil rights, and integration were the major political issues. Both African American and white women were in the vanguard of the fight for racial equality. As community leaders in the local chapters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Urban League and as members of organizations such as the Independent Women’s Organization and the League of Women Voters, women were instrumental in supporting the integration of public schools during the crisis and boycott of 1960–61. Throughout the decade, women played key roles in the fight for civil rights—leading and participating in sit-ins, demonstrations, and marches and serving as leaders of organizations such as the local chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and the Ninth Ward Civic and Improvement League.

In the 1970s, women’s volunteer groups began to lose membership, as a younger generation entered the workforce in higher numbers. Increasingly, too, women began running for public office, seeking the power to directly change policy. As officeholders and as private citizens, women continued their groundbreaking work, many turning their efforts toward the struggle for equal rights and full citizenship, driving the second-wave feminist movement in New Orleans.

The twenty women highlighted in this exhibition improved the city in the areas of education, charitable relief, enfranchisement, political reform and participation, integration and civil rights, and equality for women. All persevered in their endeavors in spite of a system that often muted their voices and actions.