Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name


Degree Program

Urban Studies


Planning and Urban Studies

Major Professor

Powers, Madelon

Second Advisor

Atkinson, Connie

Third Advisor

Ward, Martha

Fourth Advisor

Boyd Rioux, Anne


This study investigates the first Woman's Department at a World's Fair in the Deep South. It documents conflicts and reconciliations and the reassessments that post-bellum women made during the World's Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition in New Orleans, the region's foremost but atypical city. It traces local women's resistance to the appointment of northern abolitionist and suffragist, Julia Ward Howe, for this “New South” event of 1884-1885. It also notes their increasing receptivity to national causes that Susan B. Anthony, Frances E. Willard, and others brought to the South, sometimes for the first time. This dissertation assesses the historical forces that goaded New Orleans women, from the comfort of their familiar city, to consider radical notions that would later strengthen them in civic roles. It asserts that, although these women were skilled and capable, they had previously lacked cohesive force and public strategies. It concludes that as local women competed and interacted with women from across the country, including those from pioneering western territories, they began to embrace progressive ideas and actions that, without the Woman's Department at the Exposition, might have taken years to drift southward. This is a chronological tale of the journey late-nineteenth-century women made together in New Orleans. It attempts to capture their look, sound, and language from their own writings and from journalists' interpretations of their ideals, values, and emotions. In the potent forum for exchange that the Woman's Department provided, participants and visitors questioned and revised false notions and stereotypes. They influenced each other and formed alliances. Although individuals spoke mainly for themselves, common themes emerged regarding education, jobs, benevolence, and even suffrage. Most women were aware that they were in a defining moment, and this study chronicles how New Orleans women seized the opportunity and created a legacy for themselves and their city. As the Exposition sought to (re)assert agrarian and industrial prowess after turbulent times, a shift occurred in the trajectory of women's public and political lives in New Orleans and, perhaps, the South more broadly. By 1885, southerners were ready to insinuate their voices into the national debate on women's issues.


The University of New Orleans and its agents retain the non-exclusive license to archive and make accessible this dissertation or thesis in whole or in part in all forms of media, now or hereafter known. The author retains all other ownership rights to the copyright of the thesis or dissertation.