As the WIMS project progressed, even before the Wednesday visits began, we realized that this process of working with southern women in order to open their eyes, their hearts and their minds, would also cause the northern women to re-examine and re-evaluate themselves in their northern worlds. We also realized that the exposure of northern women to the effect of life behind the cotton curtain would be a cultural shock. The visits have proved that we were right. Our team members are working out their involvement in dimensions which would have been impossible to estimate. The ripples will continue long after the waves have subsided. Each woman on this project serves as a communicator. Each woman serves as a catalyst.
– Pauline Spiegel Cowan
April 10, 1913 – November 18, 1976
The WIMS organizers and team members had many goals: racial justice; opening lines of communication across race, region, and religion; supporting the Freedom Schools and voter registration drives; and expanding the commitments of the northern women themselves. Dorothy Height and Polly Cowan felt confident that they would in some measure succeed. As Cowan wrote, “the ripples will continue long after the waves have subsided.”
Did they succeed? Everything that added to the into Freedom Summer effort was important. Examples include, but are not limited to, Great Neck, New York adopting the Hattiesburg Freedom Schools, Democratic Convention delegate Ruth Batson lobbying for the seating of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, and Delta Sigma Theta sorority sending clothes to the black school children integrating the Jackson schools,.
Communications between people can be a struggle, but Mississippi is no longer the closed society it once was. Mississippian Patt Derian wrote in 1965: “After two summers of vigorous activity these ladies have established a pattern and method of activity that should not be allowed to disappear, rather it should be enlarged and applied on a much larger scale . . . all over the south certainly but also in other divided and simmering communities. A catalogue of Wednesday achievements probably cannot be compiled, simply because they did so much and the things that they did have yet to end . . . may never end. If you looked back over the last two years and marked every forward step in Jackson community relations, you’d find that a Wednesday lady has somehow been involved.”
Many of the northern women who went south in 1964 and 1965 returned home to work harder for a just society. And the National Council of Negro Women listened to what poor black and white Mississippi women had to say and then went to work to help them solve their problems.
Even as Wednesdays in Mississippi became Workshops in Mississippi, the NCNW – still working across racial and religious boundaries – helped poor women in Mississippi learn how to achieve a degree of economic self-sufficiency. They helped them survive in a society where the cotton economy had collapsed for poor tenants and laborers, and where a viable new economic structure had not yet developed. Fannie Lou Hamer told Dorothy Height that the NCNW was one of the few organizations that stayed after the high profile movement organizations had moved on, and the NCNW continues to work in Mississippi today.