The original Women’s Literary Department was created for exhibition at the 1884 New Orleans World’s Fair. It comprised more than 1,400 items – books, journals, newspapers, and sheet music donated by publishers and collected by “lady delegates” from around the US. While the vast majority of these materials were written and edited by US women, writing from England, France, and Germany was also included – as were several titles by men. Black women were not represented, despite having proposed to exhibit their works alongside those by white women.

At the Fair’s conclusion, the director of the Women’s Literary Department, Maud Howe, declared herself determined “to keep this beautiful sisterhood of books together” as a permanent library. But circumstances intervened and, within months of its presentation to a local arts society, the physical collection was scattered and lost.

This Beautiful Sisterhood of Books recovers Maud’s library for new readers and researchers. Directed by Katherine Adams and Jacquelyne Thoni Howard and sponsored by the Newcomb College Institute at Tulane University, it is a collaborative project, an archive-in-process, that will continue to grow with help from people like you!

“Eminent Women 1884”, Eugene L’Africain
Eminent Women 1884,” Eugene L’Africain

This composite photograph hung over Maud Howe’s desk in the Women’s Literary Department at the 1884 New Orleans World’s Fair. To create it, Canadian artist Eugene L’Africain photographed the twelve women separately, assembled their images together on a painted background, then photographed the resulting collage. It depicts famous authors of the day, including Nora Perry, Mary A. Livermore, Sara Orne Jewett, Grace A. Oliver, Helen Hunt Jackson, Lucy Larcom, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, Louise Chandler Moulton, Louisa May Alcott, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and (Maud’s famous mother) Julia Ward Howe.

You can browse the library catalog – it’s searchable by genre, author, state, and keyword.

You can go deeper – consult original research on individual books, authors, and the history and politics of their appearance at the 1884 World’s Fair.

You can contribute – help us complete the archive or let us publish your research on the 1884 New Orleans Exposition and its beautiful sisterhood of books.