[Home] [Book] [Expand] [Collapse] [Help]

Clear Search Expand Search


Mossell, N.F.
The Work of Afro-American Women



It was the earnest wish of the Afro-Americans that they should be given representation upon the National Committee of the World's Fair; in this they were sadly disappointed. A fair representation, however, was accorded them upon the State Boards.

The first appointment was made by governor Robert E. Pattison, of Pennsylvania.

To Robert Purvis, of Philadelphia, was accorded the honor of being made a Commissioner for the States of Pennsylvania. Mr. Purvis is well past the threescore years and ten usually allotted to mortals of today. The death of the poet Whittier leaves him the only surviving member of the body of sixty persons that signed the Declaration of Sentiments of the National Committee, which met in Philadelphia fifty-nine years ago to found the American Anti-Slavery Society. The life-work of Robert Purvis has been the amelioration of the condition of the weaker race, to which he is allied by perhaps one-eight a strain of blood.

Left in comfortable circumstances by a wealthy father, with a brilliant education and large native talent,

he has devoted his life to fighting the battles of Afro Americans. Mr. Purvis has a fair that even with a advanced years is yet strikingly strong and beautiful; tall and commanding in stature, with most courtly manners, his presence adds grace and distinction to any body of which he is a member. His home life is like that of a refined and cultured member of the Society of Friends; his present wife indeed being one of that sect.

An intelligent family of children surround him in his old age, all being the offspring of his first wife, formerly a Miss Forten, of Philadelphia. One son, Dr. Charles Purvis, was for a number of years Surgeon-in Chief of the Freedmen's Hospital, at Washington, D.C.

Mr. Puvis' home is full of books, pictures and curios relative to the history of the race. The University of Pennsylvania has dedicated an alcoves to Anti-Slavery literature in its new library building, the alcoves being named the Purvis Alcoves. Mr. Purvis and Dr. Furness haves given to the library many valuable works, among them a complete edition of Wm. Lloyds Garrison's Liberator. Within these later years this venerable philanthropist has largely confined his labors to securing opportunities for intelligent members of the race in higher grades of work.

The most valued possession of this great survivor

of the Anti-Slavery days, is a painting of Cinque, the hero of the L'Amistead, painted by the artist, Jocelyn. Cinque, being an African captive thrust into slavery, captured the vessel and put the crew in irons, carried the vessel to England, and thus, through international law, secured his freedom. The Pennsylvania Historical Society, and the New Haven Historical Society, have both expressed a desire to become possessors of this valuable historical painting.

"A Woman's Auxiliary Committee to represent the work of women through the State of Pennsylvania, was formed to work with the State Board. One of the first ladies appointed on this board, was Miss Florence A. Lewis, of Philadelphia. It can truly be said that Miss Lewis represents in her personally the symmetrical development and complete womanhood that it is possible for the Afro-American woman to attain under favoring circumstances.

"Born and raised in Philadelphia, she is one of that younger group of women who have made the most of the opportunities of a wide-awake northern city. Miss Lewis was graduated from the Institution for Colored Youth, and passed successfully the State examination for certificate to teach in the public schools. She taught in one of the Grammar schools for a number of years, at the same time doing literary work for several

papers. In course of times Miss Lewis found that she could profitably devote all her time to literature, and for the last five years she has been connected with the Philadelphia Press in the weekly edition, of which she conducts a department, besides contributing special work to the other editions. Miss Lewis is also connected with the magazine Golden Days , and writes over various signatures for newspapers and magazines in several cities. She is also one of the Advisory Board of the Citizens' National League, of which Judge Tourgee is the founder and President.

"Bright, witty and interesting, Miss Lewis has a charm and refinement of manner that make her a worthy addition to Pennsylvania's `Group of Noble Dames.'

"The position on the Board of Woman Managers of the State of New York for the Columbian Exposition was entirely unsought by Miss Imogene Howard. Her experience has been a very pleasant one thus far. Her special position on the board is as one of five of the `Committee on Education.'

"Joan Imogene Howard was born in the city of Boston, Mass. Her father, Edward F. Howard, is an old and well-known citizen of that city, and her mother Joan L. Howard, now deceased, was a native of New York. She has one sister, Miss Adeline T.

Howard, the principal of the Wormley School, Washington, D.C., and one brother, E.C. Howard, M. D., a prominent physician in the city of Philadelphia.

"Having a mother cultured, refined and intellectual, her earliest training was received from one well qualified to guide and direct an unfolding mind. At the age of fourteen, having completed the course prescribed in the Wells' Grammar School, Blossom street, Boston, she graduated with her class, and was one of the ten honor pupils who received silver medals.

"Her parents encouraged her desire to pursue a higher course of instruction, and consequently after a successful entrance examination, she became a student at the `Girls' High and Normal School.' She was the first colored young lady to enter and, after a three years' course, to graduate from this, which was, at that time, the highest institution of learning in her native city.

"A situation as an assistant teacher in Colored Grammar School No. 4--now Grammar School No. 81--was immediately offered. Here she has labored ever since endeavoring to harmoniously develop the pupils of both sexes who have been committed to her care.

"Many of her pupils have become men and women of worth, and hold positions of honor and trust

"For several years an evening school, which was

largely attended, and of which she was principal, was carried on in the same building.

"As time advances more is required of all individuals in all branches of labor. Teaching is no exception, and in recognition of this she took a course in `Methods of Instruction' at the Saturday sessions of the Normal College, of N. Y. She holds a diploma from this institution [1877], and thus has the privilege of signing `Master of Arts' to her name. This year [1892] still another step has been taken, for, after a three years' course at the University of the City of New York, she has completed the junior course in Educational History, Psychology, Educational Classics and Methodology. As a result of this she has had conferred upon her the degree of Master of Pedagogy."

"Nothing but pleasant surprises await the people of America in getting acquainted with the ever increasing number of bright Afro-American men and women whose varied accomplishments and achievements furnish some of the most interesting episodes in newspaper literature.

"Some months ago wide publicity was given to the brilliant sallies of wit and eloquence of a young Afro-American woman of Chicago in appealing to the Board of Control of the World's Columbian Exposition in behalf of the American Negro. The grave and matter-of-fact

members of the Commission were at first inclined to treat lightly any proposition to recognize the Afro-American's claim to representation in the World's Fair management. They soon found, however, that puzzling cross-questions and evasions awakened in this young woman such resources of repartee, readiness of knowledge and nimbleness of logic that they were amazed into admiration and with eager unanimity embraced her arguments in a resolution of approval, and strongly recommended her appointment to some representative position. The name of this bright lady is Mrs. Fannie Barrier Williams, and a closer knowledge of herself and history reveals the interesting fact that there is something more to her than ability to speak brilliantly. She was born in Brockport, N. Y., where her parents, Mrs. and the late A. J. Barrier, have been highly esteemed residents for nearly fifty years. Mrs. Williams is petite in size, and her face is one of rare sweetness of expression. In the pure idyllic surroundings of her home, in the quiet and refined village of Brockport, she had the very best school advantages;

"She was graduated from the college department of the State Normal School very young and began at once to teach school. For about ten years she was a successful teacher in the public schools of Washington, D. C., and resigned only when she

became the wife of her present husband, Mr. S. Laing Williams, a well educated and ambitious young lawyer of the Chicago bar. Mrs. Williams early evidenced a decided talent for drawing and painting. While teaching in Washington she diligently exhausted every opportunity to develop her artistic instincts. She became a student in the studios of several Washington artists and further studied to some extent in the New England Conservatory and private studios of Boston. Her cleverest work has been that of portraits. At the New Orleans Exposition some years ago her pieces on exhibition were the theme of many favorable criticisms by visiting artists. In conversation Mrs. Williams is delightfully vivacious and pungent, and displays an easy familiarity with the best things in our language.

"With no cares of children she lives an active life. She is secretary of the Art Department of the Woman's Branch of the Congress Auxiliaries of the World's Columbian Exposition. This Committee has the active and honorary membership of the most distinguished women artists of the world, and Mrs. Williams enjoys the esteem of all who know her in this highly important branch of the World's Fair.

"She is also an active member of the `Illinois Woman's Alliance,' in which she serves as chairman of the Committee on `State Schools for Dependent Children.' She is likewise actively interested in the

splendid work of the Provident Hospital and Training School, perhaps the most unique organization for self-helpfulness ever undertaken by the colored people of the country.

"Mrs. Williams' home life is unusually charming and happy. The choice of pictures and an ample library give an air of refinement and culture to her pretty home. She and her husband are active members of All Souls' Unitarian Church, of Chicago, and the Prudence Crandall Study Club. Mrs. Williams manifests an intelligent interest in all things that pertain to the well-being of the Afro-Americans and never hesitates to speak or write when her services are solicited. Her wide and favorable acquaintance with nearly all the leading Afro-American men and women of the country, and her peculiar faculty to reach and interest influential men and women of the dominant race in presenting the peculiar needs of her people, together with her active intelligence, are destined to make Mrs. William's a woman of conspicuous usefulness."

Next to that of Mr. Robert Purvis, the most important appointment made in connection with the race at the World's Fair is that of Hon. Hale G. Parker, Commissioner at Large. Mr. Parker is a citizen of St. Louis, Mo., but a native of Ripley, Ohio; he is

a son of John Percival Parker, proprietor and manager of the Phoenix Foundry and Machine Works, the largest on the Ohio river between Cincinnati and Portsmouth. Mr. Hale is a graduate of Oberlin College, class of '73. He entered upon the field of educational work after graduation, but a few years later determined upon the profession of law as his life-work. Graduating from the St. Louis Law School in '82, he was a few months later admitted to the bar. In connection with the duties of his professional life, he has had charge of the introduction of the J. P. Parker patents in the South and West. Mr. Parker has proven one of the most energetic workers on the World's Fair Commission. He sat for the first time with the National Commission in September and voted for the $5,000,000 loan.

Mr. J. E. Johnson, of Baltimore, held for several months a position as assistant upon the Government Board. Mrs. A. W. Curtis, of Chicago, held for a short time the position of "Secretary of Colored Interests of the World's Fair."

The last appointment was that of Mrs. S. L. Williams, New Orleans, to the Educational Committee of the State Board for the World's Fair. Mrs. Williams is the originator, president, secretary, and treasurer of an orphan asylum for girls. The institution was opened August 24, 1892, with the enrolment of 69

orphans. The organization in its one year of existence has gathered a membership of 700, and received for support $1,755. Two entertainments are given yearly for its maintenance. The life of this noble woman is being given to the uplifting of the girlhood of the race that needs, perhaps, more than any other in all this fair land, the guidance and fostering care of such a noble, Christian motherhood.