Building Black Manhattan: Architecture, Art, and the Politics of Respectability, 1857-1914


Luce/ACLS Dissertation Fellowships in American Art


This dissertation examines the architecture of charitable and reform institutions built for African Americans in late nineteenth-century Manhattan. Due to the gendered nature of reform work, it was Black women who were most central to the creation and administration of these building campaigns. Through the analysis of institutions built in the three neighborhoods with the highest Black populations following the Civil War, this project articulates the strategies used by Black women reformers to advance a progressive social agenda through their architectural and spatial choices. To contend with the absence of architectural evidence, this dissertation engages visual culture and the fine arts to reconstruct the physical and sensorial details of Manhattan’s built environment. By situating the placemaking efforts of Black reformers alongside the established history of Manhattan’s urban development, this dissertation demonstrates how Black women consciously worked to build a city that reflected their aspirations for the future of their race.