Frances “Fannie” Barrier Williams

Lived:February 12, 1855—March 4, 1944 (aged 89)
Education:Brockport State Normal School

Frances "Fannie" Barrier Williams was an educator and women's rights activist.

Williams was born on Feb. 12, 1855, in Brockport, New York. Her father was a profitable businessman, and the family – one of the few African American families in Brockport – associated with the white elites with little discrimination. Williams graduated from Brockport State Normal School (now SUNY-College at Brockport) in 1870, the first African American graduate from that school. After college, Williams taught at a school for Black students in Hannibal, Missouri, where she experienced considerable discrimination. She returned north to study piano at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, but was pressured to leave because of her race. She then began a teaching position in the Washington, D.C., area, where she met her husband, a law student. They eventually moved to Chicago, Illinois, where he began a successful law practice.

In Chicago, Williams and her husband joined the city's elite Black community and became activists and reformers. She joined the Illinois Woman’s Alliance, becoming vice president in 1889. She lectured frequently on women's suffrage, particularly the importance of the vote for Black women. She helped found the National League of Colored Women in 1893, created the National Federation of Afro-American Women with Mary Church Terrell in 1895, helped found the National Association of Colored Women in 1896, and was a co-founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1909. In 1894, she was the first Black woman nominated to join the Chicago Woman's Club, and was inducted as a member in 1896.

Williams worked successfully to gain representation of Blacks at the Chicago Columbian Exposition of 1893, and was invited to present two major addresses. In a speech given to the World's Congress of Representative Women, she argued against the idea that former slave women were not the moral and intellectual equals of other women and called for white women to support suffrage for all women.

In 1924, Williams became the first woman and the first Black American to be named to the Chicago Library Board. She returned to Brockport in 1926 and mostly retired from activism. She passed away on March 4, 1944.