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Truth-Telling: Ida B. Wells and Frances Willard

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Truth-Telling: Ida B. Wells and Frances Willard

Nashville Public Library

Anti-Racism, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion | 2021

Innovation Summary

Using new scholarship and never-before-seen historical records, NPL produced a film that traces the events of a 19th century historical conflict between an African American and white reformer. The film tackles issues of racism and race relations within women’s movements and the implications when powerful figures make failures in leadership.

Problem Statement

Traditional histories of First Wave Feminism center the experiences of upperclass, educated white women. There has been hesitation in public spaces to engage in conversations about racism and the imbalance in women’s history. Most interpretation models use apologist methods or sympathetic rationalization. The consequence of this has left many truths unheard and unrepresented. Truth-Telling recalibrated that practice by telling the story from the point of view of the African American woman and centers her experience.


Truth-Telling began as an online exhibit at the Frances Willard House Museum and reflects that the most cutting-edge women’s history is done online. NPL could have repurposed the material on our own. Instead, we created a partnership around this digital content with the museum. We added to the research and localized the content to Nashville history to build out the narrative. Conceiving of this initiative as a digital loan and partnership will set a standard for women’s history interpretation.


This program follows NPL’s successful “30/30” model —a film followed by deep dive conversation.

  • First virtual 30/30 with 217 registered, highest to date for Special Collections Division.
  • Offered to our current K-12, higher education and long-standing community partners.
  • Will create new virtual partnerships outside our region as we have already received requests from Chicago and Boston.
  • “The diversity was greatly appreciated. My favorite thing about the program was the accessibility and ability to have a conversation."