Fannie Barrier Williams


Fannie Barrier Williams


Fannie Barrier Williams was so significant a thinker that though almost no Black women were invited to lecture at the Chicago World’s Fair, she spoke twice. She addressed the World Congress of Representative Women in May, and the World Parliament of Religions in September. 🧵

Her first address, “The Intellectual Progress of Colored Women,” was a particular standout. @ProfessorCrunk Brittney Cooper describes it as “the most intellectually sophisticated and compelling narrative about race women’s progress and racial aspirations.”

Fannie Barrier Williams was born and raised in Brockport, NY, a town on the Erie Canal. By her description her childhood was “sweet and delightful” - she did not experience racism until she graduated from what’s now SUNY @Brockport and moved away.

She married atty S. Laing Willliams and moved to Chicago. There she was well-positioned to pressure white society women to include African-Americans in the 1893 World’s Fair, a fight they all but lost. Fannie took the lone clerical job they offered, though it was beneath her.

She became nationally known after her speeches at the World’s Fair, and was proposed for membership in the all-white Chicago Woman’s Club. After a year of dispute, she was admitted. Soon after, she was instrumental in creating the National Association of Colored Women.

In 1907, NAWSA’s annual suffrage convention came to Chicago. Susan B Anthony had just died, and Fannie was asked to represent “the colored people” at the memorial. She generously hearkened back to Susan B’s abolitionist days.

Williams emphasized Susan B's “unremitting struggle for liberty, more liberty, and complete liberty for negro men and women in chains,” plus, in a gentle tweak: “and for white women in their helpless subjection to man’s laws.”

Fannie Barrier Williams was the first woman AND the first African-American to join the board of the Chicago Public Library @chipublib -- in 1924. 😣 She relentlessly critiqued the double burden of racism and sexism that Black women faced.

For more on her intellectual work, including her critique of W.E.B.DuBois’ gender politics, read @ProfessorCrunk's book Beyond Respectability. After her husband died and her term on the Library Board ended, she returned to Brockport, where she died in 1944. #BlackSuffragists 


Daily Suffragist




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Daily Suffragist, “Fannie Barrier Williams,” Daily Suffragist, accessed July 14, 2024,

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