Chatty ladies buzzing during the convention speechmaking were reprimanded by sergeants-at-arms, who held up handwritten signs demanding payment of 25-cent fines.
At the podium, Inez Tinsley, president of the National Association of Colored Women's Clubs (NACWC) also begged for quiet from the delegates. She smiled graciously as the morning's speakers acknowledged multitudes of Madame Chairmans and Madame Vice-Presidents before they began addresses on non-prescription drugs and aging.
In the next ballroom over, another set of black women was seated at rows of tables, briefcases on the floor, listening to National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women's clubs President Mary Singletary blast "government's failure to adequately address" the issues she said are "the realities for women in the new decade" -- pregnancy benefits, on-the-job sexual harassment, and job reclassification as a means to thwart affirmative action directives.
Chance scheduling had put two of the leading black women's organizations in the Capital Hilton for national conventions last week.
Tinsley's 700 delegates came this week because they had proclaimed it Black Women's Week. Singletary's group, also some 700 delegates, came at this time because many are teachers and they had time off.
Both organizations are part of the network of small, local women's clubs that, in many cities, help form the social backbone of the black community. NACWC has 1,000 clubs nationwide with some 25,000 members paying the $5 annual dues. NANBPW has some 10,000 members paying $25 annually.
And as their conventions drew to a close, the women who could afford to come to the national meetings were packing away brochures and new programming ideas to take back home. As one woman said, "There are three kinds of communication -- telegraph, telephone and telewoman."
Despite a shared constituency, and a shared goal of improving life in the black community through communication and education, the two groups reflect slightly different approaches.
In the centerfold of the NACWC program there is a photo of Tinsley presenting a book of NACWC history to Rosalynn Carter; below that is a picture of Mrs Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin, who issued the letter calling for the group's first conference in July 1895.
The NANBPW program has at its center two full-page ads of a glossy, gold color with maroon lettering. Philip Morris Inc. said it is "pleased to be with you at this 1980 annual convention." Gulf Oil Corp. observed "it's human energy that really counts."
Religion is a key element in both organizations, but while the NACWC members punctuated speeches with the "Oh Yeahs" of a revival meeting, the NANBPW women, following an invocation, turned their attention to a newer authority -- Capital Hill.
The family, however, remains at the core of both groups' improvement plans. "Family life can't exist as a unit due to the fact outsiders, these dope pushers, are doing nothing but destroying our young peoples' lives," said Tinsley, who urged community leaders to create "a wholesome place where they (young people), can go to spend their evenings under supervision."
Singletary, too, said her group is concerned with preserving the family, but stressed a need for programs to aid working women and single parents.
On the issue of federal abortion funding, Tinsley stresses morality as a better alternative. "Many of our women would say that to submit to abortion would be taking the life of an individual. The best thing to do if you don't feel you want to be a parent is to stay away from the acts that lead to such things."
Singletary, executive director of Planned Parenthood in Essex County, N.J., says her group favors federal abortion funding for low-income women.
"But I also feel that we need to have more education and that could ward off the need for abortions," she added.
Tinsley, proud of her group's status as the oldest black women's organization, recites its history reverently, including the names and terms of office of all past presidents.
"In 1895 the first colored conference came about as a response to a man, I forget his name, but he was a newspaperman from the South. He was writing about the temperance movement and he said the women were leading it, but that they didn't want the black women to be a part of it because they had low morals. And he sent that message abroad," said a raging Tinsley.
"Low morals! That man had the audacity," she exclaimed. "We are women of character and considerable morals."
Refusing to reveal her age, Tinsley recalled her first convention in 1939 when she was "a very young woman."
"The hotels weren't open for you to come into as a guest. Yeah, you could come in through the back door and do menial work, but you couldn't stay there. It wasn't until about 1954 when the racial barrier, the Walls of Jericho, started tumbling down," she said.
"Now I get these letters from hotels saying 'Please have your convention here.' Just the other day I got one from the Mayflower. Would you believe it?" said Tinsley after a luncheon in the Hilton's Presidential Ballroom during which the ladies were served ice cream cake coated with whipped cream over which waiters poured raspberry sauce from silver bowls.
According to Tinsley, the NACWC women are the ones who, with their church, garden, tea, or social clubs, perform services such as reading to hospital patients, mending clothes for charity and visiting sick children.
"You know the ladies who sit in the front pew at church in the mink stoles and the big hats?" said one man in a hallway at the Hilton. "These are them."
Meanwhile, Singletary said the women of NANBPW, founded in 1935, use their volunteer time writing CETA proposals for day-care or youth employment training programs. They sit on the boards of local regulatory and governing bodies. "We're the watchdogs," said Singletary of the NANBPW's role in government human service programs.
As Tinsley recalled her time working at a Newport, R.I., volunteer day-care center during the 1930s, she said, "It wasn't like today with all these government funds."
Education, both groups agree, is tremendously important, whether it is in formal schooling, casual 'meet the candidates' nights, or chatting in the lobby of the Hilton.
In the past three years, the NACWC has donated $85,000 to the United Negro College Fund. And the NANBPW is continually organizing career workshops and training seminars in the high school auditoriums back home.
Indeed, the NACWC motto is "Lifting as we climb" which, Tinsley says, is aimed at the youth. "We've got to get to the place where we're thinking about what we're going to do for others," she said, "so they will not have to come through such deep and difficult times as their forefathers."