It was founded in 1931 as the Bantu Women’s League, with Charlotte Maxeke as its first president. It was integrated into the ANC during the period from 1943, when women were first admitted as members of the ANC, to 1948, when the ANCWL was officially founded.
It participated with the Federation of South African Women in protests against the apartheid-era government, such as the 1952 Defiance Campaign and the passbook protests of 9 August 1956. In 1956, Lilian Ngoyi became the first elected female member of the ANC National Executive Committee.
Among the activists and politicians who were allied with the ANC during the apartheid years are:
- Lilian Ngoyi
- Helen Joseph
- Dorothy Nyembe
- Sophie du Bruyn
- Ray Alexander and Rayn Alexander
- Frances Baard
- Rahima Moosa
- Winnie Madikizela-Mandela
Pictured (l-r): Charlotte Maxeke, Lilian Ngoyi & Helen Joseph
Remove all repressive laws now!, African National Congress, c1990-94, South Africa. Image: CALA