Fannie Barrier Williams and the Synecdochal Whole: Charting the Lives and Works of Mary Church Terrell, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, and Ida B. Wells-Barnett

This exhibit focuses on the lives and works of Mary Church Terrell, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, and Ida B. Wells-Barnett. I intend to represent these figures in connection with Fannie Barrier Williams to enable the charting of a larger “whole” that Williams represents synecdochally. Certain aspects of their lives, writings, and activism efforts are focused on with the intention to draw out their commonalities with each other, while maintaining their individuality. This aims to highlight the vitality brought about by an enduring literary recovery (to learn more about literary recovery, refer to this exhibit. While many of their achievements occurred after 1884, the intertwining of these women’s lives and works speaks to the importance of the women excluded from the Women’s Department at the New Orleans World’s Fair. 

While conducting research on each of these women individually, I was surprised at the connections that presented themselves to me so naturally. Without having to search extensively, I witnessed how the process of recovering one person reveals networks of collaboration and influence, overlapping memberships in multiple organizations, and a web of deep friendships. This bears the full realization of just how much the white women of the New Orleans World’s Fair impoverished their own lives and work by failing to network with Black women.

I have included a brief biographical section, a section detailing each woman’s teaching background, a section on each woman’s involvement in the National Association of Colored Women, a section on each woman’s involvement in the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, and several other miscellaneous stand-alone sections. In an effort to report on these women as parts of the synecdochal whole, I centered aspects of their lives and activist contributions which bore resemblance to one another and gave a mouthpiece to the kinds of issues that were platformed across wider marginalized and politically active communities. Terrell, Harper, and Wells-Barnett should be recognized for their individual and inspiring efforts towards equality and justice; and it should also be recognized that it is precisely these efforts that connect them to one another, as well as to other figures mentioned across this site. In piecing together the figurative quilt of historical literary activism, the stories of these three women speak to the magnitude that the derisive exclusion of Black women in the 1884 New Orleans World’s Fair had not only on a wide range of communities at the time, but also on current and past understandings of history and significance. Through them, we can strive towards a reconfiguration of those understandings.