Integration and Outreach
On January 20, 1944, 46 women from sixteen different Arlington churches of various denominations gathered together at St. George’s Episcopal Church to form the Arlington Council of Church Women. In the midst of a world war, these women used their spiritual ties to come together and better their community, whether “community” meant Arlington or the broader global community.
The Council got to work quickly. At their first meeting, the group decided to invite “the women of the negro Churches [sic]” to their upcoming World Day of Prayer in February. By August, the group had decided to become interracial, and African-American women quickly became members of the Executive Committee representing the Arlington Council at Virginia State meetings.
United Church Women of Arlington
The Council initially worked to raise money and collect clothing for war refugees, collected reading material for prisoners in the Arlington jail, and supported the establishment of local child care centers, which allowed women to work and volunteer outside the home. By 1951, these women were part of the Arlington Community Chest. They had positive interactions with the Organized Women Voters, and held programs with the local chapter of the League of Women Voters. Women from prominent and active families, such as the Ayers, Ball, and Campbell families, served on various committees and in leadership positions through the 1950s.
In 1952, the Council changed its name to United Church Women of Arlington, and began a program for ministry work with migrant laborers on the Eastern Shore. This forward-thinking program collected money, toys, clothing, and other staples for those living in migrant camps, also providing educational and religious services for laborers and their families. Their annual World Fellowship Day, on the first Friday in May, focused on support of the migrant ministries.
The Church Women, who called themselves “interracial and interdenominational,” were also concerned with social justice. They fought for civil rights starting in the early 1950s, sponsoring in-home meetings with families of different races to promote discussion and fellow-feeling, and pushed for the desegregation of Arlington Hospital (where they supported the chapel and Prayer Room), restaurants, and schools. As early as 1951, the Church Women wrote Governor Battle, protesting segregation of movie theaters in Virginia. These women wrote letters to legislators and supported both state and national legislation regarding child abuse, the minimum wage, and mental health, and even sent President Lyndon Johnson a petition to end the Vietnam War. United Church Women (Church Women United after 1968) also organized youth programs for at-risk girls and promoted regular health screenings and PAP tests for adult women.
All of these programs and activities were inspired by the women’s church lives and their spiritual beliefs. For them, working together across racial and religious lines was the best way to serve their friends and neighbors, and people in need around the world.