by Tammy C. Barney, Verite News

When it came to education, Fannie C. Williams focused on the well-being of her students. As a result, she developed the first programs to address their mental, physical, emotional and spiritual growth.

According to the Historic New Orleans Collection, Williams opened the first preschool for Black students at Valena C. Jones Elementary School in the early 1930s. She started a health program that included two dentists offering free services. She took her students on trips to Tuskegee, Alabama, and the Gulf Coast. She also started Troop 99, the first Black Girl Scout troop in New Orleans.

Legendary Black educator Fannie C. Williams. Credit: Amistad Research Center

“Throughout her career, Williams received honors for her commitment to African American education,” the Historic New Orleans Collection states. “In response to her great efforts, many distinguished persons [such as Eleanor Roosevelt and Mary McCleod Bethune] accepted invitations to visit the Valena C. Jones School.”

Born in 1882 in Biloxi, Mississippi, Williams came to New Orleans to go to high school. She graduated from Straight College in 1904. She also had two bachelor degrees from Michigan State Normal School and a master’s degree from Michigan University. She started her career on the Gulf Coast before returning to New Orleans to teach at Fisk Elementary School in 1908. 

Williams became principal at Jones Elementary in 1921. From 1931-39, she also served as principal of the Valena C. Jones Normal School, where she trained Black teachers who went on to become principals. She retired in 1954, and continued to tutor disabled students, illiterate adults and Hispanics learning English. 

According to Same Passage, U.S. presidents also sought her advice. She participated in three conferences at the requests of presidents Herbert Hoover, Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman. 

A Dillard University dorm and a New Orleans charter school are named after her. Williams died in New Orleans in 1980. She was 98.

This article first appeared on Verite News and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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