African-American Women and the Chicago World's Fair, Biographical Sketches

How Did African-American Women Define Their Citizenship at the Chicago World's Fair in 1893?

Biographical Sketches

Hallie Q. Brown was born in Pittsburgh around 1845, the daughter of former slaves. Her family lived for a period in Canada, returning to Wilberforce, Ohio in 1870, where Hallie Brown earned a B.A. degree in 1873. She taught in the South for a decade, principally in Mississippi and South Carolina. In 1892-93 she served as dean of women at Tuskegee under Booker T. Washington, the position she held when she spoke to the World's Congress of Representative Women. (For more on women at Tuskegee, see document 1 of "How Did the Views of Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois toward Woman Suffrage Change between 1900 and 1915?" also on this website.

After the World's Congress Hallie Brown spent five years in Europe, where she was active in the international temperance movement. She taught elocution and English at Wilberforce University and served on its board of trustees. She was active in numerous Black voluntary organizations, helping to found a forerunner of the National Association of Colored Women, founding the Neighborhood Club of Wilberforce, and serving as president of the Ohio Federation of Colored Women's Clubs. In the 1920s she served as president of the NACW and spoke at the 1924 Republican National Convention in Cleveland. She fought against lynching and segregation in a career as an educator and activist that spanned fifty years. For a glimpse of her later activism, see her letter to Alice Paul included in the editorial project focusing on the National Woman's Party, also at this website.

Back to Brown's speech at the World's Congress.


Anna Julia Cooper was a noted African-American educator. Born in Raleigh, North Carolina, the daughter of a slave mother and her master, Cooper earned B.A. and M.A. degrees from Oberlin College, served as a school principal in Washington, D.C., and became President of Frelinghuysen University in 1929.

After speaking at the World's Congress of Representative Women, Cooper was elected as the first woman member of the American Negro Academy. She addressed the Pan-African Conference in London in 1900, and became an outspoken critic of the emergence of apartheid in South Africa. Back in the United States, in 1902 she became principal of the M Street High School in Washington, D.C., the leading African American high school in the nation. She taught later at Lincoln University in Missouri, enrolled in graduate and extension studies at Columbia University and the Sorbonne, and in 1925 earned a Ph.D. from the Sorbonne at the age of sixty-six. Her dissertation was a historical study, "The Attitude of France toward Slavery during the Revolution."

Back to Cooper's speech at the World's Congress.


Fannie Jackson Coppin was born a slave in 1837 and became a champion of education for African Americans. After an aunt purchased her freedom, Jackson lived in Newport, R.I., and worked as a domestic in a wealthy white family. Self-educated while working, Jackson received scholarship support that permitted her to attend Oberlin College, from which she graduated in 1865. While at Oberlin she ran an evening school for freedmen and women. Upon graduation she served as principal of the female department at the Institute for Colored Youth in Philadelphia; in 1869 she became principal of the Institute as a whole, a position she held until her retirement in 1902. In 1881 she married Levi Coppin, a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church and became active in AME Church affairs. She was active in numerous African American voluntary groups, serving as an officer of the National Association of Colored Women and the Women's Home and Foreign Missionary Society of the AME Church. Fannie Jackson Coppin and her husband spent a year in South Africa, where he served as an AME bishop. At her death in 1913, thousands honored her at memorial services in Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C.

Back to Coppin's speech at the World's Congress.


Sarah J. Early, like so many other early African-American women leaders, was a graduate of Oberlin College. She taught at Wilberforce College and in the public schools of Xenia, Ohio between 1859 and 1868. She also taught in Black schools in the South, and married Jordan W. Early, a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. In addition to her activism in the AME Church, she served as Superintendent of the Colored Division of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union and lectured extensively for the WCTU.

Back to Early's speech at the World's Congress.


Frances E. W. Harper was the nineteenth century's leading African-American writer and poet. Author of twelve books, she was also an abolitionist lecturer, a supporter of the Underground Railroad, a founding member of the National Association of Colored Women, a leader of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, and a worker for the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

Frances Watkins was born in Baltimore of free Black parents in 1825, moved to Ohio in 1850, where she taught at Union Seminary, the predecessor of Wilberforce University. She moved to Massachusetts and became a lecturer for the abolitionist movement. She lived in Philadelphia with Underground Railroad activist, William Still, and allied with other abolitionists, including Frederick Douglass, Henry Highland Garnet, and John Brown. After a brief marriage ended with the death of her husband, Harper lectured and wrote extensively. Like other African-American women leaders, Harper was active in temperance work among Blacks for the Woman's Christian Temperance Union. Her 1892 novel, Iola Leroy, Or Shadows Uplifted, sought to rewrite the story of slavery and Reconstruction and inspire black self-confidence and achievement.

Harper died in Philadelphia in 1911. A biographical sketch sums her life: "She was independent, she loved liberty, she was self-supporting, and her record stands as testimony to the strength, courage, and vision of African-American women who wrote and worked for a brighter coming day."[17]

See the title page, including a photo of Harper, of Iola Leroy.
Back to Harper's speech at the World's Congress.


Fannie Barrier Williams was born into a middle-class free Black family in Brockport, N.Y. in 1855. After graduating from Normal School she briefly taught freedmen and women in the South during the 1870s, but settled in Washington, D.C. where she taught in the public schools and took up portrait painting. She married a recent law school graduate, S. Laing Williams, and the couple moved to Chicago, where support from Booker T. Washington enabled her husband to secure a position as an assistant district attorney.

Fannie Barrier Williams was an accomplished speaker and was active in Chicago civic life. She was the first Black member of the Chicago Women's Club, a supporter of nursing training for Black women at the Provident Hospital, and a founder of the Black social settlement, the Frederick Douglass Center. She also served in the 1920s as the first Black woman member of the Chicago Library Board.

Back to Williams's speech at the World's Congress.