Black Feminism​: The ​Post-Emancipation​ Era​ Section Overview

The second intimate covered passageway shares the stories of Black feminists in Washington, DC, in the early 20th century. Overflowing collages of larger-than-life images, physical books, and quotes cover the two interior, 10 feet tall walls of the passageway. Light filters through holes punched in a metal and wood panel above that cover the passageway, creating a light-dappled, intimate space.  

A vivid blue introduction label spans floor to ceiling and sets the scene in the first panel on the right. The story then progresses down the passageway from right to left in a larger-than-life collage of photographs and objects in cases. If you turn around, the rest of the story is told through a larger-than-life collage of images and objects on the opposite side from left to right. 


Introduction Label: Black Feminism​: The ​Post-Emancipation​ Era​

As the Black feminist Anna Julia Cooper proclaimed, African American women confront “both a woman question and a race problem.” In 1892 Cooper articulated the unique position of African American women just one generation after emancipation. Cooper’s prescient analysis of the confluence of racism and sexism shaped the emergence of the Black women’s club movement at the turn of the twentieth century. By 1900, DC had the largest proportion of African Americans of any U.S. city, attracted by early emancipation efforts, educational opportunities, and federal jobs.  

Headquartered in DC, the National Association of Colored Women and the Colored Women’s League fought for equitable education, temperance, and universal suffrage, while speaking out against Jim Crow segregation. Black women in DC also created art that reflected the challenges Black women faced. Their activism, writing, and creative expressions paved the way for the Black feminist movements that developed during the civil rights and Black Power eras. 


Collage 1: Anna Julia Cooper Label and Mary Church Terrell 


A collage of images and objects in cases fills the wall just beyond the introduction label on the right, making it feel that you are in the room with Anna Julia Cooper and Mary Church Terrell. Cooper’s own words seem to speak out from a quote at the highest point of the collage:  

“Only the Black Woman can say when and where I enter, in the quiet, undisputed dignity of my womanhood, without violence and without suing or special patronage, then and there the whole Negro race enters with me.” Anna Julia Cooper 

Larger-than-life portraits of Anna Julia Cooper (1859–1964) and Mary Church Terrel (1863–1954) fill half of the wall. Anna Julia Cooper was born enslaved in North Carolina and educated at Oberlin College. She came to DC to teach at the Preparatory School for Colored Youth (later named the M Street School). In 1892 she helped to organize the Colored Women’s League in DC and published what is considered one of the first Black feminist books, A Voice from the South – a physical copy of which is set below Cooper’s portrait in a small case. This collection of essays examines the importance of education for Black women and girls, as well as the sexism of Black men and the racism of white women. She saw Black women as uniquely capable of charting their own course and argued that only Black women can say “when and where I enter…then and there the whole Negro race enters with me.”  

Mary Church Terrell, like Cooper, was born in the South, educated at Oberlin, taught at the M Street School, and helped found the Colored Women’s League in DC. She helped to unify the Black women’s club movement and served as the first president of the National Association of Colored Women (1896), which fills the backdrop behind their portraits as an enlarged photograph of the women at the founder’s meeting fills the space below them. She coined its motto, “Lifting as We Climb,” to express the ideal of racial uplift. Terrell’s writings and speeches, delivered to white and Black audiences, voiced the unique position of Black women who confronted discrimination because of both race and sex. This includes her autobiography, A Colored Woman in a White World, a copy of which is set open in a case along the wall under her portrait. In 1953, at the age of 86, Terrell spearheaded protests that led the Supreme Court to declare the segregation of eating facilities in Washington, DC, unconstitutional. Two photographs of Terrell in protest–one from her time protesting for women’s suffrage with the Silent Sentinels, another protesting segregation 33 years later – bring to life Terrell’s lifelong commitment to taking action for just causes. A larger-than-life portrait of Cooper, Terrell, and former classmate Ida Gibbs Hunt in 1952 fills the rest of the collage, showing their commitment to the work throughout their whole lives and being in community.  

You can find more details about each image and object in the text labels below. Or you can skip to the next collage in this section, “Black Feminist Writers, Howard University, and the S Street Salon.” 


Image: Anna Julia Cooper, c. 1901

Photograph by C.M. Bell, Washington, DC
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division 

Image: Mary Church Terrell, c. 1890 

Reprinted with permission of the DC Public Library, Star Collection © Washington Post 

Image: Headquarters of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs, 1601 R Street, NW, Washington, DC, 2022.

The NACW purchased the R Street headquarters in 1954. National Women’s History Museum. 

Object: A Voice from the South by Anna Julia Cooper, originally published 1892 

Published by Negro Universities Press, 1969 edition
In 1892, while teaching in the DC public school system, Anna Julia Cooper published this collection of essays reflecting on her personal experiences and demonstrating the inextricable relationship between race and gender politics. 

Image: Constitution and by-laws of the Colored Women’s League of Washington, DC, 1897–98 

Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Mary Church Terrell Papers
Founded in 1892 by Anna Julia Cooper, Mary Church Terrell, Ida B. Wells, and Helen Appo Cook, this local group was a precursor to the national Black women’s club movement. 

Image: Mary McLeod Bethune at Phyllis Wheatley YWCA (Young Women's Christian Association), Rhode Island Avenue, Washington, DC, 1943 

Photograph by Roger Smith/Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division
Mary Jane McLeod Bethune (1875–1955) mobilized Black women in the club movement to support universal suffrage, women's rights, and civil rights. In 1905 she helped found the Phyllis Wheatley YWCA, which provided education and employment, as well as food and shelter, to migrants escaping the Jim Crow South. 

Object: A Colored Woman in a White World by Mary Church Terrell, originally published 1940

Published by National Association of Colored Women's Clubs, 1987 edition
Terrell wrote A Colored Woman in a White World following the ratification of the 19th Amendment granting women’s suffrage. Since the rights of Black women, like Black men, remained limited by race, Terrell became deeply engaged in civil rights agitation in Washington, DC. 

Image: Mary Church Terrell and other members of the women’s suffrage group the Silent Sentinels picket outside the White House fence, 1917 

Photograph by Harris & Ewing/Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division 

Image: Founders meeting of the National Association of Colored Women, Washington, DC, 1896

Reprinted in These 66 Years: An Anniversary Publication of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs Inc., 1962  
Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Mary Church Terrell Papers

Image: (left to right) Anna Julia Cooper, Ida Gibbs Hunt, and Mary Church Terrell, graduates of Oberlin College Class of 1884, in Cooper’s home on T Street in Washington, DC, 1952

Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Mary Church Terrell Papers  

Image: Mary Church Terrell holding a picket sign, Washington, DC, 1950

Afro American Newspapers/Gado/Getty Images
At age 87 Mary Church Terrell continued to fight for justice and equity. She protested segregated lunch counters at Kresge’s five and dime store on 7th & Pennsylvania Avenue NW in December 1950. 


Collage 2: Black Feminist Writers, Howard University, and the S Street Salon 


On the opposite wall to the left, where you enter the passageway, you’ll find a collage of images and objects that spans floor to ceiling. This collage explores the stories of Black feminists at Howard University and in the artistic community in the early 20th century. A quote from poet and playwright Georgia Douglas Johnson sets the scene: 

“The emancipation of woman is yet to be wholly accomplished; though woman has stamped her image on every age of the world's history.” Georgia Douglas Johnson 

Five large-scale portraits fill the middle of the collage against the backdrop of the Howard Theater. On the left, Ophelia Settle Egypt (1903–1984) gazes out. Settle Egypt was educated at Howard University during the early 1920s. After completing her graduate work in sociology, Egypt conducted some of the first formal oral history interviews with formerly enslaved people in the late 1920s. Later Egypt served Black single mothers in DC as a social worker. Settle Egypt attended Howard when Lucy Diggs Slowe (1885–1937) was Dean of Women—the first Black woman to serve as dean of any university. Slowe and her partner Mary Burrill are shown seated together in the foreground of the large collage. Above Slowe and Burrill, you can find a photograph of Obstetrician Dorothy Ferebee (1898–1980), who advocated for racial equality and women's health. She operated free clinics that offered birth control and vaccinations as well as assistance in childbirth to impoverished Black women in DC and the Mississippi Delta. She organized middle-class Black women to volunteer. Dr. Ferebee founded the Southeast Settlement House and served as a professor at Howard University Medical School. 

Above the rest hovers a portrait of Georgia Douglas Johnson (1880–1966), whose home that would become known as the “S Street Salon” fills the bottom of the collage in a modern photograph. The Black intellectual and artistic traditions associated with the Harlem Renaissance had a vibrant presence in 1920s DC. The poet and playwright Georgia Douglas Johnson hosted the “S Street Salon,” a weekly gathering of African American writers including Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston. The Salon amplified Black women’s voices—including Marita Bonner, Mary Burrill, and Angelina Weld Grimké (a copy of her play is included in this collage)—on the urgent issues of their day: opposing sexual violence and advocating for racial, gender, and economic justice. A physical copy of Johnson’s book of poetry, Bronze, and another Howard alum and S Street Salon attendee, Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, are set prominently in cases just below the women featured. 

You can find more details about each image and object in the text labels below. Or you can skip to the next section, “Black Feminism: The Civil Rights and Black Power Era (Part 1).” 


Image: Ophelia Settle Egypt, 1940–57

Photograph by Frank R. Jackson/Frank R. Jackson papers, Anacostia Community Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution, gift of Carole Hyman

Image: Georgia Douglas Johnson, 1923

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Jean Blackwell Hutson Research and Reference Division, The New York Public Library 

Image: Georgia Douglas Johnson house, site of the S Street Salon, 1461 S St NW, Washington, DC, 2022

National Women’s History Museum

Image: Howard Theatre, 2012

Photograph by Kris Connor/Getty Images 

The Howard Theatre opened in 1910 and showcased Black talent for more than 70 years. It was home to the Lafayette Players and the Howard University Players. Today the renovated theater presents a wide array of concerts and events.

Image: Dorothy Ferebee, c. 1930 

National Parks Service/Mary McLeod Bethune Council House NHS/National Archives for Black Women’s History 

Image: Lucy Diggs Slowe (right) and Mary Burrill in the yard of their house in Washington, DC, undated

Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University Archives, Howard University, Washington, DC
Mary Burrill and Slowe were partners for twenty-five years, bought a home together in DC, and were surrounded by a diverse community of Black women educators who treated them as a couple. 

Image: Playbill for Rachel by Angela Grimké, c. 1916 

Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University Archives, Howard University, Washington, DC
Written by Angelina Weld Grimké (1880–1958)—playwright, poet, frequent participant in the S Street Salon, and a teacher at M Street School—Rachel: A Race Play in Three Acts was staged in 1916 at the Miner Normal School in DC. The first play produced by the NAACP’s DC branch, Rachel illuminated the impact of racial violence upon African-American communities. 

Image: The Crisis, March 1920

Published by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)
Of African, Native American, and English descent, Georgia Douglas Johnson moved to Washington, DC, in 1910 and became a leading poet and playwright. The Crisis, the NAACP journal edited by W.E.B. Du Bois, published several of Johnson’s poems and featured her photograph on the cover in March 1920. 

Object: Bronze by Georgia Douglas Johnson, originally published 1922 

Published by Mint Editions, 2021 edition
In 1922 Georgia Douglas Johnson published her second volume of poetry, Bronze, illuminating the relationship between race and gender and exploring the singular challenges of motherhood for women of color in the early twentieth century. 

Object: Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neal Hurston, originally published 1937 

Published by Harper & Row, 1990 edition
Raised in the all-Black town of Eatonville, Florida, Zora Neale Hurston attended Howard and was an active participant in Johnson’s S Street Salon. Hurston’s 1937 novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God—a tribute to African American vernacular and folk traditions—portrays women practicing mutual aid in the community. 

Image: Dorothy Height, center, with Martin Luther King Jr. speaking at podium, March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963 

AP Photo 


Next Section 

As you leave this covered passageway, travel ahead and slightly to your left to the next section: Black Feminism: The Civil Rights and Black Power Era (Part 1). Once you enter this next covered passageway, the next QR code is on the first panel on your right.  

Go back to last section: Introduction to the Exhibition  

Go to next section: Black Feminism: The Civil Rights and Black Power Era (Part 1)