Janet Dewart Bell, Ph.D. is a 2015 graduate of the PhD Program in Leadership and Change at Antioch University.

Dr.Bell with her Dissertation Committee at her Dissertation Defense, Santa Barbara, May, 2015

:L-R - Dr. Laurien Alexandre, Committee Member; Dr. Janet Dewart Bell; Dr. Al Guskin, Dissertation Chair; Dr. Elaine Gale, Committee Member

Dissertation Committee:

  • Al Guskin, Ph.D., Chair
  • Laurien Alexandre, Ph.D., Committee Member
  • Elaine Gale, Ph.D., Committee Member
  • Joseph Jordan, Ph.D., External Reader


African American Women, Civil Rights Movement, Narrative Inquiry, transformational leadership, servant leaders, activism, social movements, gender, females, Black women, racism, protest movements, feminism, adaptive leader

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The purpose of this study is to give recognition to and lift up the voices of African American women leaders in the Civil Rights Movement. African American women were active leaders at all levels of the Civil Rights Movement, though the larger society, the civil rights establishment, and sometimes even the women themselves failed to acknowledge their significant leadership contributions. The recent and growing body of popular and nonacademic work on African American women leaders, which includes some leaders’ writings about their own experiences, often employs the terms “advocate” or “activist” rather than “leader.” In the academic literature, particularly on leadership and change, there is little attention devoted to African American women and their leadership legacy. Using a methodology of narrative inquiry, this study begins to remedy this gap in the leadership literature by incorporating history, sociology, and biography to describe the key characteristics of African American women leaders in the Civil Rights Movement. In acting to dismantle entrenched and often brutal segregation, they had no roadmaps, but persisted with authenticity, purpose, and courage. Few had position power; they led primarily as servant leaders. They widely engaged in adaptive leadership, which was often transformational. This study’s interviews with nine women leaders who represent a range of leadership experiences and contributions reveal leadership lessons from which we can learn and which lay the groundwork for future research. This Dissertation is available in open access Ohiolink ETD Center ( and AURA (