Portraits of Nineteenth Century African American Women Activists Newly Available Online

The following is a guest post by Beverly Brannan, Curator of Photography, Prints & Photographs Division.

African American women as well as men assumed civic responsibilities in the decades after the Civil War. William Henry Richards (1856-1941) was active in several organizations that promoted civil rights and civil liberties for African Americans at the end of the nineteenth century.

Richards taught at Howard University Law School from 1890 until his retirement in 1928. In 2013, the Library acquired his collection from the descendants of William C. McNeill, his physician at the end of Richards’ life. Both men were on the faculty of Howard University.

Richards’ portrait is the medallion in this photograph of one of his law school classes at Howard University:

Howard University Law School class outside Rankin Hall, Washington, D.C. Photo by Scurlock Studio, between 1911 and 1920? //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.50314

Howard University Law School class outside Rankin Hall, Washington, D.C. Photo by Scurlock Studio, between 1911 and 1920? //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.50314

Richards’s collection includes portraits of people who joined him and others working in the suffrage and temperance movements and in education, journalism and the arts. Among them were women who were in the public eye, active in a variety of professions and causes. In honor of women’s history month, Prints and Photographs Division staff digitized selected photographs from the collection showing women who were identified by name. These photographs show the women at earlier ages than most portraits previously available of them online. In alphabetical order, the women are:

Maria "Molly" Baldwin (1856-1922), educator and civic leader. Photo by Elmer Chickering, ca. 1885. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.50300

Maria “Molly” Baldwin (1856-1922), educator and civic leader. Photo by Elmer Chickering, ca. 1885. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.50300

Elizabeth Carter Brooks, educator and activist, with singer/activist Emma Azelia Smith Hackley (wearing spectacles). Photos ca. 1885. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.50301

Elizabeth Carter Brooks, educator and activist, with singer/activist Emma Azelia Smith Hackley (wearing spectacles). Photos ca. 1885. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.50301

Hallie Quinn Brown (1850-1949), educator and activist. Photo by F. S. Biddle, between 1875 and ca. 1888. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.50302

Hallie Quinn Brown (1850-1949), educator and activist. Photo by F. S. Biddle, between 1875 and ca. 1888. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.50302

 Bust portrait of unidentified woman. Photo by Falor & Smedley, between 1888 and 1889. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.50303

Anna J. Cooper (1858-1964), educator and activist. Bust portrait of unidentified woman. Photo by Falor & Smedley, between 1888 and 1889. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.50303

 

Amanda V. Gray (1869-1957), Doctor of Pharmacy, center. Photo in promotional leaflet, between 1903 and 1917? //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.50305

Amanda V. Gray (1869-1957), Doctor of Pharmacy, center. Photo in promotional leaflet, between 1903 and 1917? //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.50305

Lillian Parker Thomas (b. 1857- ?), journalist. Photo by Giers & Koellein, ca. 1890. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.50309

Lillian Parker Thomas (b. 1857- ?), journalist. Photo by Giers & Koellein, ca. 1890. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.50309

Clarissa M. Thompson (b. 1856-?), educator. Photo (tintype), ca. 1872? //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.50310

Clarissa M. Thompson (b. 1856-?), educator. Photo (tintype), ca. 1872? //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.50310

Laura A. Moore Westbrook (1859- ?), educator. Photo (tintype), ca. 1873. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.50311

Laura A. Moore Westbrook (1859- ?), educator. Photo (tintype), ca. 1873. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.50311

Fannie Barrier Williams, (1855-1944), educator and activist. Photo by Paul Tralles, ca. 1885. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.50312

Fannie Barrier Williams, (1855-1944),educator and activist. Photo by Paul Tralles, ca. 1885. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.50312

Josephine Silone Yates (1852-1912),educator and activist. Photo by The New Photographic Art Company, ca. 1885. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.50313

Josephine Silone Yates (1852-1912),educator and activist. Photo by The New Photographic Art Company, ca. 1885. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.50313

As research on women’s contributions to social organizations continues to expand, we hope that these newly digitized portraits will help make the faces of these dedicated women become more widely known and will encourage further scholarship.

Update 5/2/2017: Thanks to the comment from Vivian May, a scholar of Anna J. Cooper, we learned that the portrait that arrived identified as Anna J. Cooper was not correctly identified. We found another photo of Anna J. Cooper in our C. M. Bell Studio Collection. If anyone has a clue about who is represented in our now unidentified portrait by the Falor & Smedley studio, we’d be eager to hear about it!

Learn More:

  • The William Henry Richards collection contains 109 visual materials held in the Prints and Photographs Division. A selection of the photographs has been digitized. The original images can be viewed in the Prints and Photographs Reading Room by advance appointment. For more information, please use our Ask a Librarian service.
  • Get a sense of the contents of William Henry Richards’s personal papers, which are held by the Library’s Manuscript Division [view catalog record and finding aid]
  • View faces from related movements, including later African American activists and images relating to the struggle for women’s suffrage.

 

11 Comments

  1. Carolyn
    March 29, 2017 at 1:04 pm

    This is an encouraging and beautiful exhibit in regards to the important role that African-American women have played in U.S. history.

  2. Chris Wirth
    March 29, 2017 at 10:18 pm

    Superb. These photos give these women specificity and help bring them to life. They also give them credit for their work, which I imagine was pioneering. Thank you.

  3. John Hunter
    March 31, 2017 at 5:31 pm

    Most Americans believe that Martin Luther King and his contemporaries started the Civil Rights Movement. Your exhibit, online, proves that MLK was only the latest of activists. Thanks for the education.

  4. Deborah Willis
    April 2, 2017 at 12:02 pm

    This is a wonderful addition to the archive and service to us all. Thank you Beverly Brannan and LOC. deb willis

  5. Aisha al-Adawiya
    April 3, 2017 at 5:56 pm

    Stunningly beautiful and powerful. An inspiration for all.

  6. Sarah Shoenfeld
    April 7, 2017 at 3:56 pm

    Thank you, these are fabulous and need to be seen. I will share widely.

    Sarah Shoenfeld
    Prologue DC
    Mapping Segregation in Washington DC

  7. Vivian May
    April 7, 2017 at 4:22 pm

    Hello, I am a scholar of Anna Julia Cooper and was also a consultant for the USPS Cooper stamp. This is NOT a photo of Cooper (and clearly isn’t here), though there ARE two Oberlin portraits of Cooper that could be used, and there are also portraits of Cooper in the Scurlock Studios files at the Smithsonian. Please fix this and put in a Cooper image! Thank you

  8. Cheryl Howard
    April 10, 2017 at 2:22 pm

    How wonderful to know that this history will be honored.

  9. Constance
    April 12, 2017 at 1:22 pm

    So powerful…So beautiful. Thank you for revealing what we may never have read or viewed.

  10. Barbara Orbach Natanson
    April 17, 2017 at 5:11 pm

    Thank you for the information. Our initial investigations suggest that the portrait that came with documentation that identified the portrait as Anna Julia Cooper was misidentified, just as you suggest. We’ll investigate further and adjust the information.

  11. Glenn R. Chavis
    July 13, 2017 at 12:13 pm

    As a local black historian in High Point, NC, I live to find precious finds like these that truly document our history. I am always pleading with High Pointers to share any pictures or documents that I can use in my column or my books but there is a lack of interest in our local black history. Sad!

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