Throughout our country’s history, there have been many examples of talented and dedicated educators who have made a mark on society as a whole. On such example is Frances “Fanny” Barrier Williams, a 19th-century teacher and activist.
Born on February 12, 1855, in Brockport, New York, to free parents, Fanny and her siblings attended the local public school. In 1870, Fanny became the first African American to graduate from the State Normal School in Brockport. When the Civil War was over, this energetic educator accepted a teaching position in the south to help educate newly freed slaves.
In 1893, when she was 38 years old, Fanny moved north to the city of Chicago, a city which experienced a boom when it hosted the World’s Fair. When Fanny and other black women leaders protested their exclusion from the fair’s planning, this leading-edge teacher was appointed to gather exhibits for the women’s hall. She was also selected to give two speeches during the fair. In her speeches, Fanny argued to a predominantly white audience that African American women were eager and ready for education and to learn new skills. Fanny’s speeches were so well received that she soon became a popular author and orator.
Once the fair was over, Fanny helped form the National League of Colored Women in 1896. She also donated her energy to assist other African American women when they migrated to northern states.
Fannie Willimas dedicated her whole life to aiding and uplifting those in need, improving inter-racial relations, and working for justice for all. This remarkable chalkboard champion passed away of natural causes on March 4, 1944. She is buried at High Street Cemetery in Brockport, New York.