The Girl Friends®, Incorporated is one of the oldest and most highly respected social organizations of African-American women in the United States. It was founded during the Harlem Renaissance. A small group of girls who were close friends wanted to stay in touch as they went away to college and entered adulthood. Eighty-seven years later in 2014, the organization has grown to encompass over 1,700 women in 47 chapters from coast to coast. Yet, over the years, the group has remained true to its fundamental tenet, to foster friendship.
It all began in 1927, the year Duke Ellington opened for the first time at New York’s iconic Harlem Cotton Club. Eunice Shreeves, a student at Cheyney Normal School for Teachers (near Philadelphia), invited four girl friends to share a “pot of stew” at her home. Eunice thought they might form a club that would help them to maintain their friendship. Also at the gathering were Lillie Mae Riddick, another student at Cheyney; Elnorist Younge and a sister Henri Younge, students at Howard University in Washington, D. C.; and Thelma Whittaker, a student at New York’s Wadleigh High School. Eunice Shreeves is credited with being the founder, as it was her idea. Lillie Mae suggested they call themselves the Girl Friends, taking the name from a popular Rogers and Hart musical of the era. They selected as their club colors, apple green and emerald, and chose the Marshall Neal yellow rose (now called the tea rose) as their flower.
By that October the small group expanded to include other New York friends: Dorothy Roarke, Helen Hayes, Constance ( Connye) Cotterell, Rae O. Dudley, Anna Murphy and Ruth Byrd. Bessye Bearden, a newspaper columnist, civic leader and mother of celebrated artist, Romare Bearden, served as the group’s chaperone and advisor.
In 1928, Dorothy “Dottie” Townes, a close friend of both Anna and Rae, asked permission to organize a group called Girl Friends in Philadelphia. Soon the chain of friendship expanded to Baltimore (1930), Boston (1931), New Jersey (1932) and New Haven (1932). Dottie Townes suggested that the Girl Friends become a national organization. Under the leadership of Eunice Shreeves, a constitution was adopted, membership guidelines were established and the time was set for an annual meeting.
In 1927, a group of friends formed an organization to be known as Girl Friends, Inc. whose prime purpose was to foster friendship, a social contact between women in various cities. Charity was secondary.
The philosophy became popular and grew. Five years later, in 1932, a New Haven Chapter was organized by Agnes Bolore Clarke. In the fall of 1933, Girl Friends from Philadelphia, Baltimore, New Jersey, New Haven and New York declared themselves a national organization. New York, the Mother Chapter, sponsored the New Haven Chapter; New Haven, in turn, sponsored the Springfield and Fairfield Chapters. New Haven has hosted three conclaves and was the first chapter to house all visiting Girl Friends in a hotel, The Taft Hotel. New Haven's luxury hotel dropped its barriers and "oohed and aahed" at the gorgeous Black grils who invaded its premises in 1942 for the first time. New Haven has had three National Officers: Peggy Gibbs, Vice President; Libby Huggins, Parliamentarian; Agnes B. Clarke, Editor-in-Chief for six years and in 1934 served as Historian.
New Haven Girl Friends are deeply involved in the politics of the city and suburban areas where they live and with churches, education and youth in the community where Girl Friends are making most outstanding contributions. For many years, Girl Friends presented the Debutante Cotillion as a community service. We are Life Members of the NAACP. One of the many community service projects was the establishment of a Test Service Fund for Black students to help insure our youth opportunity for the success they deserve.
The history of New Haven Girl Friends cannot be complete without mention of the Boy Friends whose achievement and honors make us proud. New Haven Boy Friends support us morally and spiritually with much affection. For this we are indeed grateful.
We continue to pursue friendly and social contacts between Girl Friends living in different cities, with good Neighbor Parties and visits. Girl Friends, Inc. was founded and we have remained nationally and locally intact. We have expanded with the addition of new members. We have maintained our status down through the years for New Haven.
Shuana Sims Tucker
Leslie Douglas Churchwell
Member At Large
Carol Moore - Diana Tyler - Evelyn Dubose - Melcena Jackson - Norma Smith