Geographies of Voice

Women of Color at Harvard Across Three Centuries: In Slavery and Freedom

Offerings and Honorings



Geographies of Voice: Women of Color at Harvard Across Three Centuries. An Interactive Colloquium of Offerings and Honorings
Thompson Room, Barker Center.
Monday, April 19, 1:00-3:00 p.m.


During Spring 2010, students in the course "Power and Aesthetics in Africa and the Diaspora" (AAAS 156; instructor: Prof. Mark Auslander) are developing a class project oriented towards interpreting and witnessing testimonies and texts associated with women of color linked, in one way or another, to Harvard from the early 18th century onwards. We understand ourselves ourselves as engaged in a critical and imaginative re-excavation of the archives, listening for and to the voices of those who were long marginalized within the formal structures of the institution. We are are especially interested in helping to foreground practices of cultural production and political agency by women of African descent in and around Harvard and Radcliffe.

The project will includes an exhibition/installation in Pusey Library, incorporating primary materials from the Harvard University Archives. On April 19, we gather for a performance and installation work, centered on three altar spaces, honoring the lives and legacies of three enslaved women of color who were connected, in one way or another, with Harvard College.

We concentrate on the lives and accomplishments of nine women:

Three of the women we seek to witness were held in slavery in the Cambridge/Boston area:
  • Venus, a woman identified in President Wadsworth's diary as a "negro wench, thought to be about a twenty years of age," (hence born around 1706), purchased by Harvard's President Benjamin Wadsworth in 1726 from Adino Bulfinch in Boston
  • Phillis Wheatley, especially in reference to her poem addressed to Harvard College students, "To the University of Cambridge in New England"
  • Belinda Royall, enslaved by the Isaac Royall family, which later funded a seat of law at Harvard College

Three of the women attended Radcliffe College in the period between the Civil War and the Second World War:


Three of the women were involved in Harvard/Radcliffe after the Second World War
  • Pauli Murray (civil rights activist; not accepted into Harvard Law School)
  • Peggy Cooper (Davis), Harvard Law School , J.D. 1968; jazz performer. John S. R. Shad Professor of Lawyering and Ethics, New York University Law School.
  • Thelma Awori, Radcliffe 1965. Asst Secy General, United National Development Programme