Fannie C. Williams was a Black educator who spent the bulk of her career in New Orleans public schools, teaching students as well as training teachers.
Her list of accomplishments is long, and includes opening nursery school and Kindergarten classes in the early years of the Depression — the first for Black children in the city.
“Williams was a pioneer in the field of African American education in the South, as she worked for holistic development of children which included mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual growth,” according to an article about Ms. Williams published by the Amistad Research Center of Tulane University.
She was born in 1882 in Biloxi, Mississippi. She moved to New Orleans to attend high school and went on to earn two baccalaureate degrees from Michigan State Normal College (now Eastern Michigan University) in pedagogy and a master of arts degree from Michigan University at Ann Arbor in 1938. Later, she studied at Ohio State and Columbia universities, according to the New Orleans charter school that bears her name today.
After returning to New Orleans from Michigan in 1921, she was appointed principal of Valena C. Jones Elementary School (then called the Miro School), where she guided staff and students for more than three decades until her retirement in 1954.
She also served as the principal of the Valena C. Jones Normal School, where she helped train Black teachers.
Ms. Williams put in place many services that are common in today’s schools, including founding a health program that culminated with Child Health Day on May 1. And as early as 1929, dentists, nurses and doctors provided free services for hundreds of students.
She also was instrumental in founding the first Girl Scout troop for Black girls in the city.
She encouraged professional growth among her teachers – nine Valena C. Jones School’s teachers became principals of New Orleans schools.
And U.S. presidents sought her advice. President Herbert Hoover sought her input on the Conference on Child Health and Protection, President Franklin Roosevelt solicited her help at his conference on housing and she attended President Harry S. Truman’s Midcentury White House Conference on Children and Youth.
Ms. Williams died in 1980 at the age of 98.
We celebrate her many achievements during Black History Month, and year-round.
Don’t forget to check out our post about the incredible contributions of Dr. Edmund Gordon, who is widely regarded as the premier Black psychologist of his generation and founded of the Head Start program that today serves nearly 1 million children!