Women Builders

Media - 1967.59.1150 - SAAM-1967.59.1150_2 - 141184
Copied William H. Johnson, Women Builders, 1945, oil on paperboard, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Harmon Foundation, 1967.59.1150

Artwork Details

Women Builders
Not on view
37 5834 18 in. (95.786.7 cm.)
Credit Line
Gift of the Harmon Foundation
Mediums Description
oil on paperboard
  • African-American
  • Landscape — celestial — star
  • Figure group — female
  • Architecture Exterior — domestic — house
  • Occupation — education
  • African American
Object Number

Artwork Description

Women Builders celebrates the contributions of Black women. Johnson borrowed the title and most of the women's likenesses from a 1931 book by Sadie Iota Daniel (possibly the center right figure). Lucy Craft Laney, Charlotte Hawkins Brown, Mary McLeod Bethune, and Janie Porter Bennett (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 follow 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, though not portrayed in Daniel's book, 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.