The White City


The White City


Today the Chicago World’s Fair is most familiar from true-crime bestseller “Devil in the White City.” The nickname referred to the white stucco that gave the whole place a marmoreal gleam. It was also an apt description of who was welcome at the Fair. 🧵

African-Americans were almost entirely unrepresented, and barely welcome at the World's Fair. White women were welcome - but as spectators, not subjects. The massive campus of the Fair showcased the achievements of white men. Women were barred from the board, relegated to a “Board of Lady Managers” - which sounded silly even then. Women’s work was limited to 1 building.

Women’s art, inventions, accomplishments were absent from the other pavilions: Labor, Transportation, Art, etc. But as Gail Bederman said, at least white women got a building. Black women got next to nothing. A handful of speaking slots, a seat on one state’s board (for NY statistician Joan Imogen Howard), and one clerical post.

More than 2 years before the fair opened, Black women vigorously protested their exclusion. They published a circular: “Shall the Negro Women of this country have a creditable display of their labor and skill at the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893? The Board of Lady Managers, created by an act of Congress, says no.”

“Shall five million of Negro women allow a small number of white women to ignore them in this, the grandest opportunity to manifest their talent and ability in this, the greatest expression of the age? The Board of Lady Managers, created by an act of Congress, says no.”

The Lady Managers were unmoved. Historian Anne Massa cited a Georgia member who "expressed the prevalent Lady Managers' belief that some white woman must be behind such articulate and sustained protests.”

A year before the fair opened, Hallie Q. Brown - professor, author, club leader, suffragist - proposed to the head Lady Manager that if she would not be allowed a seat on that board, she should at least be hired to coordinate an exhibit on Black women’s achievements.
“Are nine million of American Citizens to be humiliated in the eyes of the world by the absence of even one black face in the administrative corpus of the Fair?”

Hallie gave a speech at the 15th Street Presbyterian Church in Washington, demanding a seat among the Lady Managers. Invoking scripture, Brown sought "Like Esther of old to make supplication, officially, for the people.” The Lady Managers offered Hallie Brown a secretarial position they knew she would refuse, and she did.

As the opening of the fair grew near, Fannie Barrier Williams swallowed hard and took an _unsalaried_ clerical job, rather than have no Black professional representation at all. Tune in tomorrow for which women got to speak in the White City. #BlackSuffragists #Suffrage100 


Daily Suffragist




twitter.com_DailySuffragist_status_1237126284225982470 (1).png


Daily Suffragist, “The White City,” Daily Suffragist, accessed December 4, 2023,

Output Formats