Women Builders

William H. Johnson, Women Builders, 1945, oil on paperboard, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Harmon Foundation, 1967.59.1150
Copied William H. Johnson, Women Builders, 1945, oil on paperboard, 37 5834 18 in. (95.786.7 cm.), Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Harmon Foundation, 1967.59.1150

Artwork Details

Title
Women Builders
Date
1945
Dimensions
37 5834 18 in. (95.786.7 cm.)
Credit Line
Gift of the Harmon Foundation
Mediums
Mediums Description
oil on paperboard
Classifications
Keywords
  • Occupation — education
  • Figure group — female
  • African American
  • Landscape — celestial — star
  • Architecture Exterior — civic
  • Architecture Exterior — domestic — house
Object Number
1967.59.1150

Artwork Description

Women Builders celebrates the contributions of Black women. Johnson borrowed the title and the women's likenesses from a 1931 book by Sadie Iola Daniel (possibly the center right figure). Lucy Craft Laney, Charlotte Hawkins Brown, Mary McLeod Bethune, and Janie Porter Barrett (on the left side of the painting) created institutions and programs where young Black women in the South could be educated and learn practical life skills. Maggie Lena Walker (upper right), an educator early in her career, became the first woman founder and president of a bank in the United States and paved the way for women to enter professions. Jane Edna Hunter (center right) provided affordable, safe housing for Black women working in Cleveland, Ohio, many of whom came north as part of the Great Migration. Nannie Helen Burroughs was an educator and activist for women's rights and civil rights who opened a vocational school for women to learn skills useful beyond the domestic sphere. Johnson pictured all eight women adjacent to institutions they created to foster Black achievement within their communities. 

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Exhibitions

Media - 1967.59.1146 - SAAM-1967.59.1146_2 - 141130
Fighters for Freedom: William H. Johnson Picturing Justice
March 8, 2024September 10, 2024
William H. Johnson's Fighters for Freedom series from the mid-1940s is a tribute to African American activists, scientists, teachers, and performers as well as international leaders working to bring peace to the world.