Research Guides: Louisiana Leaders: Notable Women in History

Kate Chopin
KATE CHOPIN, 1850-1904

Although a native of St. Louis, MO, Katherine O'Flaherty Chopin spent thirteen years of her married life in Louisiana, both in New Orleans and in Cloutierville (in Cane River country), and returned to her native home after her husband's death. Her family of birth was southern creole, so she was quite comfortable in her Louisiana life. New Orleans, Natchitoches Parish, and Grand Isle provide the settings for her fiction, and of her over 100 published stories, the best known of her short story collections are entitled "Bayou Folk" and "A Night in Acadie". Her stories were also published in the Saturday Evening Post, The Atlantic Monthly,and The Century among other periodicals and earned her the reputation of a "Louisiana Writer".


She is best known for her second and last novel, The Awakening, which was published to cries of scandal in 1899, and is now regarded as a classic novel written by a woman at the turn of the century. Used widely in women's studies courses, the novel describes one woman's awakening and subsequent revolt against socially prescribed roles for women and their sexuality. It is routinely assigned in first year college classes in American literature.

Kate Chopin's Cloutierville home has been restored and is accessible to the public. Known as the Bayou Folk Museum, it is a museum of 1800s Louisiana life, including a blacksmith's shop and country doctor's office.

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Henriette DeLille

Miss Delille, a free woman of color from one of New Orleans' most prominent families in the community, was an early feminist, educator, social worker and the co-founder of one of the first orders of African American Catholic nuns, the Sisters of the Holy Family. An exceptional woman who in addition suffered from pleurisy (a disease including stabbing chest pains and difficulty of breath), her accomplishments are extraordinary given that at that time most people of African descent in New Orleans were enslaved, and the life of most white women was confined to domestic duties.

Henriette and Juliette Gaudin, also a free woman of color of a respectable family, founded the order in 1842, when previous attempts to do so had failed twice. It is important to remember that this was six years before the First Women's Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, NY, would begin the national mobilization for the struggle for equality for women. These women gave all of their fortune, reputations, and lives (against the wishes of their families) to bettering the lives of people of color, both slaved and free. They gave up the life of relative luxury for the empowerment of their race; they followed their religious beliefs, even when it went against the existing laws. For example, they encouraged free women of color and their white men to marry, bringing them into the church for the priest to perform the ceremony. This was a significant violation of the law, but the sisters felt so strongly that "living in sin" was wrong.

The order grew from several members to include a school, charity hospital, two branch houses in the country and the management of an orphan asylum. At the turn of the century the community resided in the Orleans Ball-Room, on Orleans Street in the French Quarter, where a plaque on the building speaks to their historical importance.

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Alice Dunbar-Nelson

Alice Moore was born in New Orleans of African American, Native American and Caucasian ancestry. She graduated from Straight College (now Dillard University) with an education degree in 1892. Three years later she published her first book, Violets and Other Tales, which was a mixture of short stories, poetry, sketches, etc., which would begin a multifaceted career as an author of many genres, including fiction, drama, and newspaper journalism. One of her several marriages was to the famed African American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar with whom she published several works of fiction.

Her work included themes of New Orleans and Creole life, and also frankly confronted the race problem and the issues of "passing" and the "color line". A portion of her Cornell University master's thesis on Milton and Wordsworth was published in the highly respected journal Modern Language Notes in 1909. She was widely published in journals, gave many speeches, and wrote newspaper columns for the Pittsburgh Courier and the Washington Eagle. Her greatest contribution to the field of Black women's literature is the diary she kept in the 1920s and 30s. Being one of only two full-length diaries written by nineteenth century Black women, it addresses areas of sexuality, family, health, work, and writing; it documents the existence of an active Black lesbian network and her relationships with several prominent women. (The other diary in existence is written by Charlotte Forten).

Her activist work in race relations and suffrage included serving on the Delaware state republican committee and directing campaign activities among African American women, heading the Delaware Crusaders for the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill, and being a member of the delegation that addressed President Warren Harding at the White House on the issue of African American concerns. A prominent clubwoman and feminist, she was the field organizer for women's suffrage for the Middle Atlantic states. She was a co-founder of the Industrial School for Colored Girls, in Marshallton, DE, where from 1924-28 she served as parole officer and teacher. She served as the executive secretary for the American Inter-Racial Peace Committee from 1928-1931, in which capacity she traveled widely, giving speeches and organizing programs.

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Kate and Jean Gordon

The Gordon sisters were among the South's few suffragists and were well-known and respected for their work in furthering the women's reform movement in the arenas of political and social reform.

Kate Gordon (1861-1932) is best known for her work to secure the vote for women. In 1896 she founded the Era Club to work for women's suffrage -- Era stood for equal rights association. Building on the suffrage work done earlier by Caroline Merrick and Elizabeth Lyle Saxon, the Club pushed for the state constitution to allow women to vote. Partial victory was granted and women taxpayers were given the vote, in person or by proxy, on matters relating to taxation.

The Club formed the Woman's League for Sewerage and Drainage with Kate as its president to address the pressing matter of poor sewage and drainage which was a major public health hazard. The League worked to mobilize the 15,000 women taxpayers of the city and signed petitions ensured the issue would come to election. As a result of women voters that day, the tax increase to address the drainage problem was passed and the Picayune gave full credit to the Gordon sisters and other women reformers for the success of the measure. (June 7,1899)

Kate went on to speak at the National American Woman Suffrage Association convention in 1900, led the Louisiana state suffrage association from 1904-1913,and influenced the Democratic National Convention of 1916 to endorse state suffrage in its platform.

Jean Gordon (1865-1932) focused her life and energies on social service while remaining involved in suffrage. Working tirelessly for over ten years to better the labor conditions of working children, her efforts were finally successful with the legislature's passage of the Child Labor Act of 1906 which also amended the state constitution to allow women to serve as factory inspectors. Jean Gordon was the first woman factory inspector in New Orleans, serving from 1907-1911. Her continued work drew her national recognition and led to the establishment of annual meetings of southern governors to discuss this issue and the passage of uniform child labor laws in southern states.

While working with children, she became aware of the plight of the mentally challenged. As the president of the Milne Asylum for Destitute Orphan Girls, she established a model home-school for the care and vocational education of the mentally handicapped. The Milne Home was a pioneer institution in Louisiana, for even though a state law had been passed in 1918 to establish an institution for the mentally handicapped, no funds were appropriated. The first Louisiana state institution did not open until 1921. Her service to society continued in many other areas including establishing day care for working mothers, directing the Louisiana State Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and legislative reform.

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Angela Gregory
ANGELA GREGORY, 1903 - 1990

Born in New Orleans, Angela Gregory studied in Paris under the famed French sculptor, Antoine Bourdelle, and then returned to her home city in 1928 to teach at Newcomb College, known for its numbers of young talented women artists. Daughter of Selina Bres Gregory, a well known Newcomb potter, she was one of the first female sculptors in the 1920s; it was considered unusual for a woman to carve stone because of the great physical stamina required to wield a heavy hammer and chisel. She is one of only three women in the country who are credited with three public monuments.

Her first commissioned work was the cement relief work on the Criminal Courts building on Tulane Avenue, New Orleans, commissioned when she was just 25 years old. While in her 20s she also sculpted the Statue of Bienville, the founder of New Orleans, standing with a priest and a Native American on Loyola Avenue. Her other public monuments are the statue to Confederate governor Henry Watkins Allen, in Port Allen, and the John McDonogh monument in New Orleans. She also sculpted eight of the 22 famous men that surround the exterior of the State Capitol in Baton Rouge.

Her collections are housed at the Delgado Museum of Art; St. Gabriel Church, St. Gabriel, LA; La Tour Caree, Septmonts, France; Louisiana State University; and the State Capital among many others. She was artist-in-residence at Newcomb College and sculptor-in-residence at St. Mary's Dominican College, where she began in 1962 and continued for many years. She was awarded the honor of professor emerita from the latter institution. She is internationally known for her sculptures of architectural sculptures and portrait busts and has won a number of prizes for her bronze studies of African Americans.

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Margaret Haughery

The first statue erected in the United States in honor of a woman is the statue to Margaret Haughery at the corner of Prytania and Camp in New Orleans. This remarkable woman was a penniless Irish immigrant who lost her husband and child to the yellow fever epidemic soon after their arrival to New Orleans in 1835. From humble beginnings she grew into an astute business woman/entrepreneur and philanthropist who established four orphanages, several homes for the elderly, and at her death gave the bulk of her estate, over $600,000, to New Orleans' orphanages. She was well known throughout the city for her charity and compassion and creative resourcefulness to provide for the city's needy children.

After establishing her first orphanage in a dilapidated house with the widespread reputation for being haunted, and after making it habitable, the owner wanted to evict them and sell the property. Margaret used her ingenuity and sincerity to convince the owner of the value of charity and for her efforts the orphanage was granted free rent from that day on. After this success, she purchased several cows to provide milk for the children and this purchase grew into a booming dairy whose products she sold through the city from her milk cart. Her investments and loans were highly profitable and her wealth grew. As a result of earlier loans to businessmen, she found herself to be the major stockholder of a bankrupt bakery which she transformed into a highly successful venture known as Margaret's Bakery (later the Klotz Cracker Factory).

She tended to the victims of the constant yellow fever epidemics in the city without consideration of race, religion, or class and her generosity was well-known throughout the city. After the epidemic of 1853 devastated so many homes and families, she was approached with the need for an orphanage for infants alone. Her answer was, "Build the asylum, and God will pay for it" and it was thus that St. Vincent De Paul Infant Asylum at Race and Magazine Streets was started. An imposing structure, the debt for the orphanage was paid off in sixteen years, largely through Margaret's milk cart sales.

Margaret died in 1882 and was greatly mourned. The crowd at her funeral stretched for a block outside the church doors and her pallbearers included former governors and mayors. All stores, city offices and business establishments were closed for the day in respect.

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Clementine Hunter

One of Louisiana's most famous painters, Miss Clementine Hunter painted her first painting on an old window shade. Her work is referred to as "Outsider Art" referring to self-taught artists who paint primitive folk paintings. Her work is internationally known and highly collectible. She is the first African-American to exhibit in the New Orleans Museum of Art.

Born at Hidden Hill Plantation (now Little Eva Plantation) in Natchitoches Parish in 1885, she is reported to have begun her career in her 50s with discarded paints and brushes left by a visitor visiting Melrose Plantation, where she worked for almost 75 years. Melrose, outside of Natchitoches, was known in the early part of this century as a place of culture and art, and Miss Hunter worked there beginning in the cotton fields, and then progressing to the laundry and finally the kitchen.

A prolific painter, she painted over 4000 pictures in 35 years, her work focusing on recording daily plantation life and spiritual awakenings. Her paintings were principally in oil, and their themes include cotton picking, religious rituals and Saturday night parties. Art critic Francois Mignon refers to Clementine Hunter far excelling Grandma Moses in her media of expression and versatility in subject matter. "Although handicapped by lack of formal education, Clementine is definitely in the genius bracket, industrious to an unusual degree and gifted in any line of art and handcraft on which she may rivet her attention."

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Sadie Irvine

One of the three principal decorators of the Newcomb College Pottery of New Orleans, Sarah Agnes Estelle (Sadie) Irvine is described as being the "greatest of the decorators in the history of the enterprise" and the "virtual cornerstone of the program". Newcomb's pottery program, established in 1895 at the women's division of Tulane University, is a very famous example of teaching craft skills to women in need of a career. It provided craft training, employment after graduation for some women, and specialist training for women artists in its later years. Newcomb pieces are valued collectibles today and are distinctive for their muted blues and greens and designs taken from the southern natural landscape.

One of the most famous designs of the pottery were the oak tree and the moon, shown above, both attributed to Miss Sadie Irvine. She recalled, "I was accused of doing the first oak-tree decoration, also the first moon. I have surely lived to regret it. Our beautiful moss-draped oak trees appealed to the buying public but nothing is less suited to the tall graceful vases -- no way to convey the true character of the tree. And oh, how boring it was to use the same motif over and over and over, though each one was a fresh drawing (no Newcombe pot was ever duplicated unless the purchases asked for it)." Miss Irvine began her studies at Newcomb College in 1902 and remained there in graduate studies, as an Art Craftsman, and as an Assistant, Assistant Instructor, and Instructor until her retirement in 1952. Her contributions to the Art School were "immeasureable". After her retirement from Newcomb, she taught for fifteen years at Sacred Heart Academy in New Orleans.

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Mahalia Jackson
MAHALIA JACKSON, 1911 - 1972

Mahalia Jackson was born in poverty on Water Street in New Orleans and became one of the greatest gospel singers of all time, entertaining personal greetings from Queen Elizabeth I and Winston Churchhill, and giving a command performance for the king and queen of Denmark. She began singing at the age of four in the children's choir at Plymouth Rock Baptist church and the church remained her guiding focus throughout her life. Although influenced by the many styles of music and performers of New Orleans in the 1920s, the Sanctified church was the most significant and lasting. The music she brought the world was a fusion of the blues, ragtime, jazz, and gospel.

Thomas A. Dorsey, later known as the "Father of Gospel Music" became her mentor and publisher and wrote over 400 gospel songs that Jackson helped popularize. Dorsey and Jackson, along with other composers and performers of this time period, revitalized African-American religious music. Ms. Jackson's first recording was "God Shall Wipe Away All Tears" in 1934 but the one that launched her career was "Move On Up a Little Higher" on the Apollo label which sold over 8 million copies. Mahalia Jackson became famous solely through that Black community; when she broke the one million dollar mark in sales the African-American press described her as "the only Negro whom Negroes have made famous". She recorded around thirty albums and a dozen gold records, signifying million dollar sellers, from her 45 rpm recordings.

In addition to her singing career, Mahalia had her own CBS radio program and television show and managed several businesses and had significant real estate holdings. At the 1963 march on Washington, DC, for civil rights, Ms. Jackson preceded Dr. Martin Luther King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech with the traditional spiritual, "I Been 'Buked and I Been Scorned". Mahalia Jackson died of heart failure in 1972. She is buried in Providence Memorial Park, Metairie, LA.

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Frances Joseph-Gaudet

Mrs. Frances Joseph-Gaudet was born in a log cabin in Holmesville, MS, of African American and Native American heritage. She was raised by her grand parents and lived with her brother in New Orleans where she went to public and private schools and attended Straight College. Widowed early, she dedicated her life to social work and worked with the Prison Reform Association assisting prisoners unjustly accused. Starting in 1894 she held prayer meetings, wrote letters, carried messages, and secured clothing for black prisoners and later for white inmates as well. Her never ending encouragement and support of prisoners won the support of prison officials and city authorities, the governor, and the Prison Reform Association.

Upon her return from serving as a delegate to the Women's Christian Temperance Union international convention in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1900, she attended hearings of the juvenile court where she assumed responsibility for young blacks arrested for misdemeanor or vagrancy and worked toward their reform. She was the first woman, black or white, to support juvenile prisoners in Louisiana and her efforts helped found Juvenile Court. When her home grew too small for this endeavor, she purchased a farm on Gentilly Road and founded the Colored Industrial Home and School which later became the Gaudet Normal and Industrial School. The school was also a boarding school where working mothers could leave their children. Through various fundraising activities the school expanded to 105 acres with dormitories and many buildings.

Mrs. Gaudet was the principal of the school until 1921 when she gave the school to the diocese of the Protestant Episcopal church of Louisiana with the understanding that they would continue the school, or if sold, donate the proceeds to a similar school. In the 1950s the school closed, but in 1954 the Gaudet Episocopal Home opened in the same facility serving African American children ages four to sixteen. Although this home is now closed, the endowment continues to fund St. Luke's Community Center on N. Dorgenois Street which honors Mrs. Gaudet with a hall in her honor. Mrs. Frances Gaudet spent the last years of her life in Chicago, Illinois, where she died in December 1934.

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Caroline Merrick

One of the first pioneers in the Louisiana women's suffrage and temperance movements, Caroline Merrick was born to a prominent family in East Feliciana Parish and married Judge Edwin T. Merrick whose career would eventually take him to New Orleans. During the late 1870s she began to involve herself in civic activities, including serving on the board for St. Anna's Asylum in New Orleans, an institute for poor women and children run entirely by women. In 1878 a German woman inmate revealed that she had $1000 dollars and on her deathbed wrote a will giving the money to the Asylum that had sheltered her. When the will was probated, it was found to not be "worth the paper it is written on" because it was witnessed by "incapables". Those judged incapable to witness a legal document were "women, insane, idiots, and felons."

Spurred by the injustice of losing this money, Caroline and Elizabeth Lyle Saxon drew up a petition to present to the state constitutional convention that was meeting in New Orleans in 1879. The two women secured over four hundred signatures for their petition and Caroline Merrick 's speech to the full convention won much acclaim. The matter caused a sensation, received often positively even in remote parishes.

While the convention granted them only a minor concession , granting women 21 years of age or older eligibility for office of control and management on school boards, it was the start of further women's movement activities involving suffrage, social reform, improved child labor laws, etc. The following decade of church societies, temperance unions, and women's clubs would empower women to step outside their narrowly defined societal roles and agitate for change.

During this period Mrs. Merrick was instrumental in temperance work, inviting nationally known leader Frances Willard to speak in New Orleans. Willard felt she was a "lady who can make the W.C.T.U. a success, even in the volatile city of Mardi Gras". Merrick began a ten year term as president of the local W.C.T.U., and within several years saw the growth of similar organizations around the state. She became president of the National W.C.T.U. in 1882. In 1892 she organized the Portia Club devoted to the study of the legal rights of women and children who later joined the Era Club to gain the right for female taxpayers to vote on tax issues.

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Eliza Nicholson

Born along the Pearl River in Mississippi, Elizabeth (Eliza) Jane Poitevent Nicholson would become the first woman publisher of an important daily newspaper, the Picayune. She began as a poet, writing under the name Pearl Rivers, whose work was accepted by newspapers in New Orleans and New York. She was offered the position of literary editor of the Picayune, and courting the disapproval of her family who strongly objected to Eliza's joining the male workforce, she moved to New Orleans in 1870 where she became the first Louisiana woman to earn a living by working for a newspaper. Several years later she married the owner/editor of the Picayune who upon his death in 1876 left the newspaper $80,000 in debt. Although encouraged to declare bankruptcy, the 27 year old widow decided to remain as publisher of the newspaper.

Although a few staff left, the majority stayed and gave her their loyalty. In several years she married her business manager and together they changed the face of the Picayune. Under Eliza's management the paper evolved into a family newspaper, with daring innovations for the time including departments for women and children, fashion, medical advice, household hints, etc. The introduction of a society page which invaded the closed private lives of the city's elite scandalized at first, but by 1890 it became the largest department in the Sunday paper. Also a philanthropist, Eliza used the paper's editorial pages to battle against cruelty to animals, writing columns against dog fighting, and beatings of horses and mules.

By her death in 1896 the paper had incorporated many elements of modern syndicated newspapers, while other papers remained unchanged since the Civil War. From 1880 to 1890 the newspaper more than tripled its circulation and influence, growing in size and stature.

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Camille Nickerson

"The Louisiana Lady", Camille Nickerson was born into a talented musical family in the French Quarter in 1888. A child prodigy, at the age of nine she was the pianist for the Nickerson Ladies' Orchestra directed by her father. At the Oberlin Conservatory she earned a bachelor of music and M.Mus degrees, and membership in Pi Kappa Lambda, the national honor society in music. While at Oberlin, she began to compose and publish Creole music and "When Love is Done" became the first publication in her career as composer.

She returned to New Orleans to teach with her father in the Nickerson School of Music and began her debut as a concert artists, playing cities including Atlanta, Birmingham, and Nashville. Her stage name, "The Louisiana Lady", was enhanced with her authentic Creole dress; audiences in the U.S. and Europe raved about her performances. In addition to composing Creole music, she also collected and arranged songs to preserve her native culture.

Although very successful on the concert circuit, she gave up performing to become part of Howard University's music faculty. She remained there from 1926-1962, retiring with the title professor emerita. Her master's thesis, "Afro-Creole Music of Louisiana" highlighted much Creole folk music and the impressive accomplishments made by black American musicians in the field. She was elected President of the National Association of Negro Musicians in 1935.

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Elizabeth Lyle Saxon

Born in Greenville Tennessee and moving to New Orleans after the Civil War, Elizabeth Saxon worked with Caroline Merrick as a pioneer in the Louisiana women's suffrage movement. She was one of the first women in the South to write, speak, and agitate for reforms of labor laws for women and children. It was her interest in reform that led her to work for suffrage, because she saw the need for women's votes in order to affect change.

Saxon successfully presented the first petition to the state's constitutional convention's suffrage committee in 1879 and along with Caroline Merrick won limited success. For the next twelve years she spoke before the Senate Judiciary Committee on behalf of a constitutional amendment for women's suffrage, toured with Susan B. Anthony to advance the movement, and organized over fifty chapters of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union in various states.

Once back in New Orleans, Saxon organized an attack against the Harman Ordinance, an ordinance that would provide for licensing of prostitutes that would in her view make the licensing Dr. Harman much money and would not curb prostitution. She believed it was an evil that should be eliminated by moral not legislative means, and would this ordinance give police the authority to suspect any working women of prostitution. The ordinance was defeated to much acclaim and Saxon continued to involve herself in various reform and civic activities.

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Dr. Dolores Spikes

Born in Baton Rouge, Dr. Dolores Spikes has many "firsts" to her credit. In 1971 she was the first African American graduate and the first graduate of Southern University to receive a doctorate of mathematics from Louisiana State University; she is the first woman in Louisiana to be named Chief Executive Officer of a public university; and she is the first woman in the United States to head a university system.

Dr. Spikes was chancellor of both Southern University-Baton Rouge and Southern University-New Orleans. She went on to become president of the Southern University System, the largest predominantly Black public university system in the United States. She presently holds the position of President at the University of Maryland, Eastern Shores. She holds degrees in mathematics from Southern University-Baton Rouge (B.S.), University of Illinois (M.S.) and a Ph.D. from LSU. She has been the recipient of the Thurgood Marshall Education Achievement Award and the 1890 Colleges and Universities Distinguished Alumnus Award(Southern University). She has been a National Science Foundation Fellow and a Ford Foundation Fellow.

She has served on many higher educational councils and commissions, and her community activities include service on the Boards of Directors of the Baton Rouge Chamber of Commerce and the Louisiana Red Cross. She was a founding member of the Louisiana Partnership for Technology and Innovation.

Dr. Spikes is known as a "visionary leader, a dynamic and motivating speaker, and a highly effective, compassionate but firm educational manager". In January 1990, Ebony Magazine named her one of the twenty "most influential Black women in America".

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Madam C. J. Walker

Born Sarah Breedlove on a Delta, LA cotton plantation, she is considered to be the first Black American woman millionaire. In some references she is described as the first self-made American woman millionaire. After being orphaned at age seven, and widowed with a two year old daughter, she moved to St. Louis where on a laundress' salary she educated her daughter and sent her to Knoxville College. She decided to start her own line of hair care products and with less than two dollars in savings, set up a mail order business in 1906 in Denver, CO with the help of her new husband Charles Walker. The company grew to include a beauty school in Pittsburgh, and later offices in Indianapolis and Harlem. By 1916 the Walker Company included 20,000 agents, both men and women, in the U.S., Central America, and the Caribbean.

A noted philanthropist, Madam Walker gave $1000 to the building fund for the YMCA in the Indianapolis black community, the largest gift given by an African American woman. At the 1912 National Negro Business League convention, after League founder Booker T. Washington had refused her request to be on the program, she spoke from the floor and so impressed the mostly male audience that they invited her back the following year as a keynote speaker. In 1918 she gave the keynote speech at several NAACP fund-raisers for the anti-lynching effort and in her will contributed thousands of dollars to Black schools, individuals, organizations, and institutions.

Madam Walker was a strong advocate of Black women's economic independence which she fostered by creating business opportunities for women at a time when the only other options were domestic work and sharecropping. Her business philosophy stressed economic independence for women: "...I want to say to every Negro woman present, don't sit down and wait for the opportunities to come...Get up and make them!" (National Negro Business League, 1913) Her entrepreneurial strategies led to what has become a multibillion dollar Black cosmetics industry and she used her wealth and status to work towards political and economic rights for African Americans and women.

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Sophie Bell Wright

Sophie B. Wright is another woman from the turn of the century honored with a statue. Located at the intersection of Sophie Wright Place and Magazine Street, it is a tribute to a woman educator who, despite a painful physical handicap, greatly furthered the education of women and the poor.

Born into a poor family, Miss Wright suffered a fall as a toddler, and spent her life in a steel harness, walking painfully with crutches. With incredible strength and determination she began her life as an educator in 1881 by opening her own "Day School for Girls" when just fifteen years old; within four years the she was able to add boarding facilities and the school had established a reputation as one of New Orleans' best private schools. When she was 18 years old, a circus performer asked if she could teach classes for poor men which led within the year to the establishment of a free night school for men and boys. The only requirement was that the students had to be employed during the day and be too poor to pay for classes.

In addition to serving on the Prison Reform Association and the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, she served as president of the New Orleans Woman's Club and worked to secure public playgrounds, baths, and summer vacations for children and needy women. The Daily Picayune honored her in 1903 with the prestigious award, the Loving Cup, for outstanding social activism and philanthropy. Sophie Wright was the first of twenty one New Orleans women to receive this award.

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Chopin, Kate, 1850-1904, Author
DeLille, Henriette, 1813-1862, Social worker, Educator, Co-Founder of Sisters of the Holy Family
Dunbar-Nelson, Alice, 1875-1935, Author, Activist, Educator
Gordon, Kate and Jean, 1861-1932, 1865-1932, Suffragists and Social Reformers
Gregory, Angela, 1903-1990, Sculptor and Educator
Haughery, Margaret, 1813-1883, Philanthropist, Businesswoman, and Social Worker
Hunter, Clementine, 1885-1988, Artist
Irvine, Sadie, 1887-1970, Craftswoman and Educator
Jackson, Mahalia, 1911-1972, Gospel Singer, Recording Artist, Entrepreneur/Producer, Businesswoman
Joseph-Gaudet, Frances, 1861-1934, Prison Reform Worker and Educator
Merrick, Caroline, 1825-1908, Suffragist and Temperance Leader
Nicholson, Eliza (Pearl Rivers), 1849-1896, Poet, Newspaper Owner and Editor
Nickerson, Camille, 1888-1982, Collector, Arranger, Composer, Musician, and Educator
Lyle Saxon, Elizabeth, 1832-1915, Suffragist, Temperance Leader, Social Reformer
Spikes, Dr. Dolores, 1936- , First Woman in the United States to Head a University System
Walker, Madam C. J.(Sarah Breedlove), 1867-1919, Businesswoman, Philanthropist and Inventor.
Wright, Sophie Bell, 1886-1912, Educator and Social Reformer

Timeline of Louisiana Women's History
This document, compiled in October 1997 by Rachel Murphree, gives a brief synopsis of women's history in our state. It also provides a good starting point for additional research, and a contact for access to existing research files.

Louisiana Leaders: Notable Women in History Exhibit
In honor of Women's History Month 1996, the LSU Libraries sponsored this exhibit, curated by Rachel Cassel Murphree. The exhibit included pictures, portraits, and biographies of eighteen notable women in our state's history. This site gives the biographies of each woman and the accompanying list of bibliographic references.


This Topic Guide is based on the following exhibit:

Middleton Library, Second Floor
March - April 1996

Rachel Cassel Murphree, Curator

Photos of Sophie Wright, Elizabeth Saxon and Kate and Jean Gordon, Tulane University Libraries
Photo of Dr. Dolores Spikes, Southern University Office of University Relations
Photo of Sadie Irvine, Newcomb College Center for Research on Women
Photos of statues, Donald G. Murphree

Generous Assistance received from:
LSU Libraries Administrative Office
Hill Memorial Library
Linda S. Griffin
Donald G. Murphree