Organizing Societies

Dublin Core


Organizing Societies


By James Cox
The exhibition spaces of the St. Louis World's Fair and neighborhoods of St. Louis mirror each other as studies in racial segregation. William McGee, head of the Anthropology Department, designed the imperial displays of the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. McGee based his anthropological work on the idea that societies and cultures must be uplifted.1 He organized U.S. colonial projects from the most educated projects, the Indian Schools, to the least educated societies, the Philippines.2 Walls built around The Philippines Exhibit duplicated the “Walled City” of Manila.3 These walls accentuated the separation between Filipinos and other societies. McGee used racial superiority and education to demonstrate that American imperialism helped societies progress towards civilization. Segregation in St. Louis organized society from most to least socially influential. The most influential lived in a six block area of Lindell and Kingshighway, the northeast corner of Forest Park, all white elite enclaves.4 The lowest social standing, African-Americans, inhabited the downtown and midtown districts.5 The United Welfare Association prevented African-Americans from leaving these districts by promoting fear among white members of society.6 Jim Crow laws, separate but equal, increased the divide between communities. Racial prejudices created neighborhoods that separated the white elites and African-Americans. The fair design and St. Louis districting demonstrated racial relations of the early twentieth century. The parallels between the fair and St. Louis highlight the imperial project, racial superiority, and social power propagated through racism. The city of St. Louis and the Fair displayed racial segregation by organizing societies.

1 WJ McGee, “The Trend of Human Progress,” American Anthropologist 1, no. 3 (July 1899): 403,
2Robert Rydell, All the World’s a Fair: Visions of Empire at American International Expositions, 1876-1916, (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1984), 162.
3John C. Lebens, “Philippine Exhibit,” in World’s Fair Bulletin 4, no. 12 (October 1903): 7,
4James Neal Primm, Lion of the Valley: St. Louis, Missouri, 2nd ed. (Boulder: Pruett Publishing Company, 1990), 366-367.
5Priscilla A. Dowden-White, Groping toward Democracy: African American Social Welfare Reform in St. Louis 1910-1949, (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2011), 25. 6Dowden-White, Groping toward Democracy, 83.


Colin Gordon (left image) and Pharus Publishing (right image)


1916 Zoning Ordinance (part of Mapping Decline St. Louis and the American City) © Colin Gordon
Pharus-map World's Fair St. Louis, 1904


University of Iowa Library (left image) and Library of Congress Geography and Map Division (right image)


The left image is copyrighted by its original creator Professor Colin Gordon



Colin Gordon (left image) and Pharus Publishing (right image), “Organizing Societies,” History Corps, accessed April 19, 2018,