Dorothy Pitman Hughes (born 1938) is a feminist, child-welfare advocate, African-American activist, public speaker, author, pioneering African-American small business owner, and mother of three daughters. She was a co-founder of Ms. Magazine in 1972. She organized the first shelter for battered women in New York City and co-founded the New York City Agency for Child Development (now the New York City Administration for Children's Services). Hughes also co-founded with Gloria Steinem and others the Women’s Action Alliance in 1971. The two women toured together speaking about gender, class and race throughout the 1970s.
Hughes owned and operated three early child-care centers helping establish the modern convention in the 1960s. She also owned an office supply business in Harlem from 1997 to 2007 and wrote about her experiences in Wake Up and Smell the Dollars! (2011) and I'm Just Saying... It Looks Like Ethnic Cleansing (The Gentrification of Harlem) (2012), advocating small business ownership to other African Americans as a form of empowerment, as well as advising how to avoid potential pitfalls specific to African Americans. The National Portrait Gallery selected for its collection a photograph of Hughes and Steinem sharing a large skirt, each with a raised fist salute to demonstrate feminist solidarity. The photograph was shot by photographer Dan Wynn for Esquire Magazine in 1971. Ms. Pitman Hughes commissioned photographer Dan Bagan to create an homage portrait of the two friends together again in a similar pose for Ms. Steinem's 80th birthday.
Oprah Winfrey honored Hughes as one of America’s "Great Moms".
Hughes is the aunt of actress Gabourey Sidibe.
Hughes has focused her activism in the Northside community of Jacksonville, Florida, growing food within the neighborhoods to combat poverty. She owns the Gateway Bookstore in Jacksonville.
Dorothy Pitman Hughes was born 1938 in Lumpkin, Georgia. Her father was beaten when she was ten years old and left for dead on the family's doorstep; the family believes it to be a crime committed by Ku Klux Klan members. Hughes decided as a child in reaction to her family's experiences she would devote her life to improving the circumstances of people through activism.
Pitman Hughes moved from Georgia to New York City in 1957 where she worked in entertainment as a singer through the 1960s. She began her activism by raising bail money for civil rights protesters. She was a co-founder of Ms. Magazine in 1971. She organized the first shelter for battered women in New York City and co-founded the New York City Agency for Child Development pioneering child-care noting "too many women were being forced to leave their children home alone while they worked to feed their families". Hughes also co-founded with Gloria Steinem the Women's Action Alliance, a pioneering national information center that specialized in nonsexist, multiracial children's education, in 1971. The two women toured together speaking about race, class and gender throughout the 1970s.
Pitman Hughes has been a guest lecturer at Columbia University, taught a course called "The Dynamics of Change" at the College of New Rochelle, and a guest lecturer at City College, Manhattan.
In 1992, Hughes co-founded the Charles Junction Historic Preservation Society in Jacksonville, Florida using the former Junction homestead to combat poverty through community gardening and food production.
In 1997 Hughes became the first African-American woman to own an office supply/copy center and to become a member of the Stationers Association of New York (SANY). In May 1997, Hughes, as CEO of Harlem Office Supply, Inc. began to offer HOS stock at $1.00 a share to individuals, corporations, partnerships and non-profit organizations focused on African-American children. She wrote about her experiences in Wake Up and Smell the Dollars! (2011), advocating small business ownership to other African Americans as a form of empowerment.
Hughes was involved in the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone (UMEZ), a federal program instituted by the Clinton administration in 1994 designating $300 million of federal, state, and city money for the economic development of Harlem. Hughes was part of the research team that created the Business Resource and Investment Service Center (BRISC), focused on the development of small, locally owned businesses in Harlem. However Hughes later became a critic. The programs brought large businesses like Old Navy and Disney into Harlem to create jobs but ultimately created more competition for locally owned businesses. "Some are convinced that empowering large corporations to provide low paying jobs for our residents will bring economic empowerment to the community.... [But] without African-American ownership, there is ultimately no local empowerment" stated Hughes, believing BRISC's resources were being unevenly distributed among small businesses in Harlem. Hughes later wrote Just Saying... It Looks Like Ethnic Cleansing (The Gentrification of Harlem) providing advice to African American business owners who might want to utilize similar government programs such as the JOBS Act, signed into law by U.S. President Barack Obama in 2012.
Hughes owns the Gateway Bookstore in Jacksonville, Florida. She also works in the Northside community of Jacksonville with the Episcopal Children’s Services to combat poverty by creating community food gardens, with support from friend and co-activist Gloria Steinem.
Dorothy Pitman Hughes and Gloria Steinem met in New York City because of their mutual work in women and child welfare. They worked to found Ms. Magazine in 1971 and toured together to raise awareness of gender, race and class issues through the 1970s. Steinem made sure to speak with child care pioneer Hughes or other leading African-American feminists to challenge the notion feminism was a white middle-class movement, "Despite the many early reformist virtues of The Feminine Mystique, it had managed to appear at the height of the civil rights movement with almost no reference to black women or other women of color."
This show of unity was translated into an iconic black and white photograph of Hughes and Steinem, now part of the National Portrait Gallery collection, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C. Taken by photographer Dan Wynn for Esquire Magazine and published in October 1971, Wynn captured Steinem and Hughes signaling their feminist solidarity by sharing the same large skirt and raising their fists in the raised-fist salute first popularized by members of the Black Power movement. Hughes noted the unlikely nature of their friendship at the time, admitting the terror she felt of being seen in public with a white woman in her hometown of Lumpkin, Georgia when Steinem would visit. The two women spoke again in 2008 at Eckerd College where they reenacted their raised fist pose together.
Steinem has partnered in Hughes' efforts in the Northside community of Jacksonville, Florida to combat hunger with community gardens, by appearing as a speaker and funding support.