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Thu, 07.15.1897

Sylvanie Williams, Educator, and Clubwoman born

Sylvanie F. Williams, 1896

*On this date in 1847, Sylvanie Francoz Williams was born.  She was a Black educator and clubwoman.  Born Sylvanie Francoz in Opelousas, LA, she was the daughter of François Francoz and Sarah Francoz. The date of her birth varies in sources, from 1847 to 1855; her obituary places her birthdate around 1849.  

She trained as a teacher at Peabody Normal School.  Sylvanie F. Williams worked as a school administrator, principal of the Fisk School Girls' Department from 1883 to 1896 and of the Thomy Lafon School from 1896 to 1921. The latter school was burned down during rioting in 1900 but rebuilt under her leadership.  Among the students under her care were A. P. Tureaud, who became a prominent civil rights lawyer.  Williams prepared a report on the educational, economic, and cultural conditions of Black residents of New Orleans, to be presented at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893.  Sylvanie Francoz was married to Connecticut-born musician and educator Arthur P. Williams.  

In 1895, she was founder and president of the New Orleans chapter of the Phillis Wheatley Club, a prominent national organization for Black women. The New Orleans club sponsored a nursing school, a hospital, and a free clinic for Blacks; they also conducted sewing bees to make clothing for orphans.  She was also active in creating the first public playground for Black children in New Orleans. A writer in her lifetime called Sylvanie Williams "a fine example of the resourcefulness and noble influence that a cultivated woman can and will give to the uplift of her race."  She was a vice-president of the National Association of Colored Women's Clubs (NACW) when it was founded in 1896.

Williams supported women's suffrage, including Black women's suffrage. In 1903 she attempted to attend the annual meeting of the National American Women's Suffrage Association (NAWSA), when it was held in New Orleans, but was barred because of her race.  Instead, Williams welcomed a visit to the Phillis Wheatley Club from white suffrage leader Susan B. Anthony, and she spoke with Anthony about the place of Black women in the suffrage movement.  . She was widowed when her husband died in 1920.  She died on died August 12, 1921, aged about 72 years.  A New Orleans elementary school is named for Sylvanie Williams.   

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I said: Now will the poet sing,- Their cries go thundering Like blood and tears Into the nation’s ears, Like lightning dart Into the nation’s heart. Against disease and death and all things fell, And war, Their strophes... SCOTTSBORO, TOO, IS WORTH IT’S SONG by Countee Cullen.
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