Be Your Own Best Advocate. A warrior woman is out-spoken when something needs to be said. She uses her influence to better her community and lifts others up along the way.
As I keep working with the Warrior Women series my perception of what that means to me keeps expanding. Sometimes I have a lot of information about the woman, the place, or time in the image I have chosen. Sometimes I don’t. This woman just spoke to me very strongly through her image. She appeared regal, brave, and confident.
In my image search, I started to find a number of striking images of Black women taken in the Victorian times. Unfortunately, they often didn’t come with any identifying information about the woman, details about the setting, or even the photographer. That only made me more curious to know what the lives of these women were like.
The Victorian Era brought very proscribed expectations for women in the dominant white society, called the “the cult of true womanhood” which included traits such as domesticity, high moral standards, and impeccable presentation of self and home. In “Black Ideals of Womanhood in the late Victorian Era”, author Shirly Carlson writes about the important role of “Black Victorias” in their own communities. She studied Black communities in Illinois that were a mixture of those who were settled there and those who immigrated from the South and East during the post emancipation era. This was a microcosm of the changes in black communities across the country during the time period of 1890-1910, known as the late Victorian Era.
She found that Black Victorias embraced the same standards of womanhood which meant managing an orderly home, being modest and pious, being a pillar of the community, all while dressing in an impressively fashionable manner. This meant fancy hats, floor-length dresses, fitted bodices, and ruffle-embroidered sleeves. However, the Black Victorias also held on to values that were unique to their own community. In the Black community, education for women was highly valued and many Black Victorias were highly educated and it was acceptable to work outside the home as teachers, journalists, business women, and philanthropists. She attended social and church events and was very involved in the community. She was, in all ways, a role model to others. Unlike women in the larger society, it was accepted and even expected that Black Victorias were engaged in social activism to make improvements in the Black community. She was aware of the larger racial issues of that era. She was known to be self-confident and out-spoken.
Black Victorias had a very important role in Black communities during a critical point in history. They served as a model for women’s empowerment, leadership, and civic engagement. Although, we don’t know the names of the women in these photographs, they tell their story by radiating their confidence, beauty, and strength. To see more photos of these amazing women, click on the links below.
Carlson, S. J. (1992). Black Ideals of Womanhood in the Late Victorian Era. The Journal of Negro History, 77(2), 61–73. https://doi.org/10.2307/3031483