Gaze At These Compelling Turn of the Century Photos of African American Women

by Madeline Raynor

Civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois presented photographs of African Americans at the Paris Exposition of 1900 to show what life was like for them at the turn of the century. The Paris Exposition was dedicated to issues of social economy. The photographs were part of a larger exhibit on the history and current state of African Americans in the United States. Du Bois, who co-founded the NAACP and advocated for equal rights for African Americans, contributed 500 photographs to the exhibition, which also featured books written by African Americans, charts, and maps. The Library of Congress has preserved over 200 of the photographs reportedly displayed in the exhibition.

We rounded up some of the best pictures that feature black women. From stunning formal portraits to candids of women at work, these photos are a window into the beautiful and elaborate fashions of 1900 as well as a primer what jobs and educational opportunities  were available for black women.


African America woman, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing slightly right


Nursing student wearing a starched white uniform, seated in a rocking chair, reading


African American woman, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing front


Two African American women, three-quarter length portrait, seated, facing each other


Nine African American women, full-length portrait, seated on steps of a building at Atlanta University, Georgia


African American woman, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing left


Cutting and fitting


Young African American woman, half-length portrait, facing front, smiling


African Americans, mostly women, sorting tobacco at the T.C. Williams & Co., tobacco, Richmond, Virginia

Header photo: Four African American women seated on steps of building at Atlanta University, Georgia

Images Via Library of Congress/ W.E.B. Du Bois

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