SAIC alum Charlotte “Lottie” Wilson was the earliest known African American painter to have a work exhibited in the White House’s collection.
Charlotte “Lottie” Wilson was born in 1854 in Niles, Michigan to Calvin and Henrietta Wilson. Her trailblazing spirit came from her family—her father was a charter member of the first black Masonic Lodge in Michigan and was a strong voice for equal education for all races. Wilson was the first African American to attend and graduate from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and was active in the women’s suffrage movement. Wilson was an adept painter, and after the deaths of her first husband and child, she moved to Washington, DC where she opened her own studio. Unfortunately, many of her works have been lost except for a reproduction of President Lincoln with a Former Slave, which depicted the momentous 1864 meeting between President Lincoln and abolitionist and women’s rights activist, Soujourner Truth. When President Theodore Roosevelt accepted the portrait for the White House’s permanent art collection, Wilson became the earliest known African American painter to have a work exhibited in the White House’s collection.