An Efficient Womanhood

Women and the Making of the Universal Negro Improvement Association

By Natanya Duncan

An Efficient Womanhood

Approx. 352 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 31 halftones, notes, bibl., index, selected bibliography

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-8328-7
    Published: January 2025
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-8327-0
    Published: January 2025

Paperback Available January 2025, but pre-order your copy today!

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From its Kingston, Jamaica, inception in 1914, women helped define and shape the Black Nationalist and Pan Africanist aims of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). Their efforts, made possible in part by UNIA co-founder Amy Ashwood Garvey, helped sustain the largest social justice organization of the twentieth century. In this deeply researched collective biography, Natanya Duncan documents the complexities of UNIA women as active participants in Black nation-building. Women from both sides of the Atlantic joined the UNIA in pursuit of both gender and racial equality, developing a three-tiered activist strategy that Duncan calls “efficient womanhood”: seek equitable partnerships with like-minded persons and organizations, work as peer and intergenerational mentors, and serve as bridge builders between the organization and resources and people in service to their immediate communities and the race at large.

Through an impressive and original archive of their self-determination, Duncan presents the stories of Henrietta Vinton Davis, Maymie de Mena, and Laura Kofey as well as groups of UNIA women like the Black Cross Nurses, the Universal African Motor Corp, and the Lucy 9 Club, who circumvented the ideals of their era and created a brand of independent female leadership. The book demonstrates how UNIA women orchestrated and activated the organization from the bottom up, while influencing and informing men and each other. By focusing on how women of the UNIA created an activist framework, Duncan reveals a model of organizing that has endured into the present day.

About the Author

Natanya Duncan is associate professor of history and director of Africana studies at Queens College CUNY.
For more information about Natanya Duncan, visit the Author Page.


"Natanya Duncan's seminal work fills a major void in the UNIA's history, bringing to the fore a new set of women who have fallen through the archival cracks and shifting the history of the movement beyond Garvey himself."—Ula Y. Taylor, author of The Veiled Garvey: The Life and Times of Amy Jacques Garvey

"With this compelling collective biography of Garveyite women in Africa, the Caribbean, and the Americas, Natanya Duncan deepens and expands our understanding of Black nationalism and the global dimensions of Garveyism and the UNIA, the largest black-led political organization in world history."—Robert Trent Vinson, author of The Americans Are Coming! Dreams of African American Liberation in Segregationist South Africa