This introductory chapter discusses the Women's Department of the World's Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition in 1884. The Woman's Department provided New Orleans ladies with their first collective exchange with national activists, whom they had previously dreaded, snubbed, rejected, or simply not known. Between mid-December 1884 and the end of May 1885, attentive women gained new opportunities to insinuate their voices into debates on women's issues, even if they had eschewed organized movements. During the six months of the World's Fair, some individuals began to understand that newfound strategies and collaborative efforts could serve their own agendas long after the exhibits were dismantled. The chapter then sets outs the book's purpose, which is to show how the event became a watershed moment in persuading a coterie of late-nineteenth-century white ladies to trade illusory pedestals for broader vistas, to enlarge notions of acceptable womanhood, and even to contemplate organized suffrage.
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