The Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching was founded in November 1930 in Atlanta, Georgia, by Jessie Daniel Ames, a Texas-born southern woman active in suffrage and interracial reform movements. She and twelve founding members established the ASWPL as an arm of the Atlanta-based Commission on Interracial Cooperation, an organization working for racial harmony. The ASWPL's founders, all active in Protestant churches and interracial organizations (they were later joined by members of Jewish women's groups), wanted to prevent lynching by educating southern Whites about its causes and prevention. They were convinced that lynchings were sanctioned murder and the result of "false chivalry," the use by White men of White women's virtue as an excuse for racially motivated violence against Blacks. The ASWPL sought to convince White women of their responsibility to refuse to play a helpless role in that process.
The association had no constitution, by-laws, charter, dues, or formal membership roster. It did have standards for affiliation, however. Southern, often prominent, White women who were active in existing reform and church organizations were asked to serve as state and local contact points in the association's information network and to use their respective organizations to spread the word against lynching. Although its structure resembled that of many Black antilynching organizations, the ASWPL rejected participation by Blacks in its activities because its leaders believed that only White women could influence other White women. The association separated itself from the Commission on Interracial Cooperation to avoid connection with concepts of interracialism, but continued to receive its only financial support from the CIC. Ames met in Atlanta once a year with a volunteer central council of ten to twelve women to make policy, and she headed an executive committee of five that handled routine tasks. Eventually, state councils were formed to funnel information from the central council. Working through existing organizations and securing pledges of active support from individuals, the ASWPL grew rapidly. Georgia and Mississippi women formed the first state councils and were followed by councils in eleven more states. By the early 1940s there were 109 associations, and memberships totaled four million. In Texas efforts were headed by Sallie L. Hanna, a churchwoman in Dallas who had previously served as the national president of the YWCA.
Once its participants pledged to work to end lynching, the central council provided them with results of their investigations into specific incidents, issued press releases, brochures, pamphlets, and other educational pieces for use in the states, instructed supporters about procedures for preventing lynchings, and urged them to secure antilynching pledges from sheriffs, judges, governors, and other political figures. Letter-writing campaigns and confrontations with law officers and mobs were also among their tactics. The ASWPL concentrated its efforts in the five states where lynchings were most frequent-Mississippi, Georgia, Texas, Louisiana, and Florida.
In Texas in 1934 Sallie Hanna secured the pledges of seven gubernatorial candidates to use the power of the governor's office to end lynching. The Texas council sent questionnaires to each candidate, then offered the results for publication. The Dallas Morning News printed the story on page one. Attorney General James Allred, who subsequently won the governorship, pledged to support state legislation necessary to control mobs, to prevent lynchings, and to catch and punish perpetrators of lynchings.
By 1942 enough reduction in mob violence and lynchings had been accomplished that Jessie Ames believed the purposes of the ASWPL had been achieved and ended the association's work. In addition many of the association's active supporters had begun to fight for a federal antilynching bill, which she opposed.