African-American Women and the 1893 Chicago World's Fair: Teaching strategy




White women activists succeeded in securing a Woman's Building for the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, but made no effort to include Black women in the formal planning process. This failure and the likelihood that African Americans would not be represented in the exhibits mounted in the Woman's Building mobilized Black women to protest their exclusion. Class and other social differences among Black women meant that they did not always agree on how they should be represented at the fair, but their efforts to be included raised significant issues about the citizenship of Black Americans in general and Black women in particular. Taking the lead in these discussions, Black women expanded the civic space that they occupied in Chicago and the nation.


To examine the debate about the publication of The Reason Why by Ida B. Wells for distribution at the World's Fair; to explore different conceptions of citizenship articulated by Black women in the 1890s.

Teaching Strategies

1. Ask students to read " No 'Nigger Day,' No 'Nigger Pamphlet!' " (1893). Why did Ida B. Wells and Frederick Douglass propose to write a pamphlet for distribution at the 1893 World's Fair? Why did the editors of The Freeman oppose the proposal? What does this conflict reveal about splits within African-American leaders at this time?

2. Read documents 10 and 11 of this project, " World's Fair Appeal " and " World's Fair Pamphlets. " What new arguments emerge in these editorials? In the end, which side of the debate do you support and why?

3. Next, have students begin to explore African-American concepts of citizenship by reading the speech by Hallie Q. Brown (1894). What was Brown's opinion of the value of education for African-American women? Why did Brown talk about the accomplishments of several extraordinary African-American women? What did she mean when she spoke of "the gospel of honorable manual labor?" How did this concept relate to her view of the value of education?

4. Continue the exploration of citizenship by reading the speech by Anna Julia Cooper (1894). What did Cooper mean when she wrote, "We hardly know what we ought to emphasize, whether education or wealth, or civil freedom and recognition?" What did Cooper value most? What do you think Brown valued most? What was Cooper's opinion about civil rights for African-American women?

5. Read the speech by Frances E.W. Harper (1894). How was Harper's speech different from either Brown's or Cooper's? Why did Harper argue that "What we need today is not simply more voters, but better voters?" What did she propose as a solution to the problems she highlighted?

For Further Exploration

Explore the views toward education of two prominent African-American men, W.E.B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington, using the website A Study of Black Educational Theories . In a three-page paper, compare their views to the views expressed in the three speeches examined above. Which women reflect the views of Washington? of Du Bois? Do any of the speeches combine the views of the two men?

back to top