Stunning photos of black women from the Victorian era

Originally published at:


None of them are holding up their graduation scrolls as MDs, thus proving that Delta Airlines was right. (I’m still angry after reading about that.)


Amazing pics. Some of these could be straight off album covers.


Depending on what you mean by album that could be a great compliment, or damning with faint praise.

That one. Really struck by how relevant/modern/recent some of these look.


Sometimes I feel like there’s something to be said for naivety.

Years back I would have seen this and simply thought, “Very sharp. Excellent sense of fashion!” And maybe felt myself a little shlubby by comparison.
These days I can’t help thinking of these folks simply dressing to be treated as slightly more human.

Certainly enjoyment of one’s own personal style does not mutually exclude the use of that style to survive. But the fact that survival need even be a consideration overshadows the picture with sadness.


Really? This thread now, while @Melizmatic is gone? It’s like rubbing salt in the wound.


The woman in the riding gear looks completely bad-ass. She’s giving the camera a Grace Jones stare.


@peterk, there was a strong black middle/upper class during the victorian era - doctors, college professors, political leaders, lawyers, bankers, etc. They were dressing as their economic (if not racial caste) class dictated at the time.

See also, a short history of Ida Wells told by Hark a Vagrant:


One thing is for certain, and that’s that I’ll never again fly Delta. If I’m in need of medical attention, I don’t want to wait while a racist stewardess plays Twenty Questions with the doctor.


The woman reclining on the couch reminds me a lot of Whitney Houston.

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I didn’t doubt it.
I seem to recall an article about a black woman who made a pretty good fortune in hair care during an earlier era (not sure Victorian), even (gasp!) driving her own car. Though unfortunately poor memory and google-fu fail to find the reference now.

I guess I’ve become cynical (or risk adverse) enough in my middle age that frequently upon seeing some thing I like (e.g. snappy fashion choices) my mind automatically tries to place if there’s a way in which it could subtly be a not-immediately-obvious bad thing.

E.g. where one might say they were dressing as their elevated economic class dictated, another might question whether the need to use such class indicators is itself a good thing.


You’re thinking of Madame CJ Walker, certainly:

Join the club. You’re not the only one. I’ve found it helpful to actively seek out the silver linings and places of resistance in history. It doesn’t change to bad stuff, but it reminds us that resistance is possible.

Sure, but you can ask that about white victorian society as well. It’s a question that works well on the whole of victorian society, I think. Just don’t forget notions like double consciousness or the double bind of racism and sexism faced by black women. It’s important to to keep all those balls juggling in order to get an accurate picture of the past. it’s hard to do, for even those of us who study history…


Are you thinking of Madam Walker?

Even if you aren’t, it gives me the excuse to play Harlem Blues, which references her:


Hah! Fist bump :punch:


@Mindysan33 @chgoliz Almost certainly Madam Walker


This makes no sense to me. Maybe I’m misinterpreting the word “diversity” in this context? Or did you mean diversity in the class of people who would take these types of photos, wear this kind of clothing?

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