Gladys-Marie Fry

Photo courtesy of Maryland Folklife Archives

African American Folklorist and Historian

Gladys-Marie Fry


Born and raised in Washington, DC, Gladys-Marie Fry earned her BA and MA at Howard University (where her father taught as a prominent professor and architect) and her PhD from Indiana University Bloomington, studying with Dr. Richard M. Dorson. She became the first African American awarded a PhD in Folklore in 1969. She retired as Professor Emerita in 1999 after teaching folklore for 30 years in the English Department of the University of Maryland-College Park. Dr. Fry served on the AFS Executive Board, was elected as an AFS Fellow, co-founded the Association of African & African American Folklorists (AAAAF), and mentored many young Black women scholars.

Dr. Fry’s internationally recognized research emphasized African American slave history and cultural practices through oral history, narrative, beliefs, archaeology, textiles, and clothing. Her scholarship, rooted in her family and community experiences, reveals concealed resistance and the persistence of African traditions which African Americans communicated through their creative practices, material culture, and oral narratives in response to the oppressions they faced in daily life. In all her research, Fry sought to draw the historical truths from family legends, beliefs, oral histories and material culture that she studied. Her outstanding dissertation, which became her first book, Night Riders, was based in the oral histories from Black communities about attempts by nightriders and “night doctors” to manipulate, intimidate, and police Black people during and after slavery by using superstitions about the supernatural and violence as tools of their white supremacy. Dr. Fry was also acclaimed as one of the leading African American quilt scholars. Beginning with work on enslaved quilter Harriet Powers, Fry’s groundbreaking quilting scholarship placed the lives of enslaved women quilters and their quilting tradition into historical and cultural context. She also was a pioneer in examining the quilting of African American male quilters.

Throughout her career, Dr. Fry was awarded numerous prestigious fellowships including Ford Foundation, Danforth, Bunting Institute, Guggenheim and the National Humanities Center for her landmark scholarship. She held several grants and curated several quilt exhibits at the Smithsonian Institution and other museums. She published multiple articles and exhibition catalogs as well as two books that are classics:

Night Riders in Black Folk History (1975)

Stitched from the Soul: Slave Quilts from the Antebellum South (1989)

Phyllis May-Machunda

Fry, Gladys-Marie. 1888-2000. Gladys-Marie Fry papers. Stephen O. Murray and Keelung Hong Special Collections: Identifier: MSS 628.  

Fry, Gladys-Marie and Jessie Carney Smith. Unknown. Quilts and quiltmaking in Black America. Hemphill Creative Printing (8 pages). 

Fry, Gladys-Marie. 1955. A miscellany of distinctive designs for all types of embroidery work in silk, wool, linen and cotton. Pitman.  

Fry, Gladys-Marie. 1967. The Night riders: a study in the social control of the negro. Reprod. de : Diss. : Philos., Folklore : Indianapolis, Indiana University : 1967.  

Fry, Gladys-Marie. 1969. “The System of Psychological Control.” Negro American Literature Forum. Vol. 3, No. 3, Folklore (Autumn, 1969), pp. 72-82 (11 pages). 

Fry, Gladys-Marie. 1975. Night Riders in Black Folk History. University of Tennessee Press.  

Fry, Gladys-Marie. 1980. “Made By Hand.” In Mississippi Folk Arts. Mississippi State Historical Museum.  

Fry, Gladys-Marie. 1984. “Militant Needles: An Exhibit of Slave Made Quilts.” National Afro-American Museum Project. Columbus, OH, 1984.  

Fry, Gladys-Marie. 1986. Broken Star: Post Civil War Quilts Made by Black Women. Museum of African-American Life and Culture, Dallas, TX.  

Fry, Gladys-Marie. 1987. “Harriet Powers: Portrait of a Black Quilter.” Sage: A Scholarly Journal on Black Women. v4 n1 p11-16 Spr 1987.  

Fry, Gladys-Marie. 1989. Stitched from the Soul: Slave Quilts from the Antebellum South. The University of North Carolina Press.  

Fry, Gladys-Marie. 1993. “Not by Rules, But by the Heart: The Quilts of Clementine Hunter.” In Clementine Hunter, an American Folk Artist. Museum of African-American Life and Culture, Dallas, TX.

Fry, Gladys-Marie. 1998. Man Made: African American Men and Quilting Traditions. Anacostia Museum and Center for African American History and Culture, Washington, D.C.  

Fry, Gladys-Marie and Mark P. Leone. 1999. “Conjuring in the Big House Kitchen: An Interpretation of African American Belief Systems Based on the Uses of Archaeology and Folklore Sources.” The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 112, No. 445, Theorizing the Hybrid (Summer, 1999), pp. 372-403. 

Fry, Gladys-Marie. 2001. “Black feminist cultural criticism.” Oxford: Blackwell Publishers. Malden, MA.

Fry, Gladys-Marie. 1990. “Harriet Powers : portrait of an African-American quilter.” Bibliographie d’Histoire de l’Art. Previously published in: Fry, Gladys-Marie. Stitched from the soul : slave quilts from the ante-bellum South. New York: Dutton Books, 1990, p.84-91. Originally published in: Missing pieces : Georgia folk art 1770-1976. Atlanta, GA: Georgia Council for the Humanities, 1976, p. 16-23.

Ruppel, Timothy Ruppel, Jessica Neuwirth, Mark P. Leone, and Gladys-Marie Fry. 2015. “Hidden in view: African spiritual spaces in North American landscapes.” Antiquity., Cambridge University Press, Volume 77, Issue 296, June 2003 , pp. 321-335.