Why Jaipur’s King Painted His City Pink to Impress the Prince of Wales

Andrea Moroni, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Andrea Moroni, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

If a member of the royal family were coming to your home, you’d probably spruce it up a bit—maybe rearrange the furniture and plop some peonies into a vase. The king of Jaipur, however, went above and beyond what's expected of a host.

In an effort to impress the Prince of Wales ahead of his state visit in 1876, it is widely believed that the king had the entire city painted pink.

A row of pink buildings in Jaipur
iStock

The gate leading into the Pink City
iStock

Nestled in the state of Rajasthan in northern India, Jaipur is about a one-hour flight from New Delhi. Today, this popular tourist site is affectionately known as the “Pink City,” but its streets weren’t always so rosy. Prior to a state visit from Prince Albert Edward—the eldest son of Queen Victoria and her consort, Prince Albert—Jaipur’s buildings were either white or a “sallow yellow,” according to The Rough Guide to India.

In hopes of dazzling his royal counterpart, the reigning maharaja (“great king”) of Jaipur, Sawai Ram Singh II, decided to undertake something of a remodeling project. He ordered all buildings in the city to be painted the same shade of pink—a color that symbolizes hospitality. At the urging of his favorite wife, the maharaja took it one step further and passed a law in 1877 making it illegal for buildings in the old city to be painted any color other than "Jaipur pink." This law still remains in effect today.

Ram Singh II, the Maharaja of Jaipur
Ram Singh II, the Maharaja of Jaipur
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

A black and white photo of Jaipur from 1875
Taken in 1875, this photo shows a street leading to the City Palace in Jaipur.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

According to one account, the first person to call Jaipur the “Pink City” was writer Stanley Reed, a correspondent for The Times of India who wrote about the Prince of Wales’s royal visit.

The color more closely resembled a light maroon, but no one seemed to object to the city's new moniker. The pigment was brought in from Kanota, located about 10 miles away, and mines were also dug closer to Jaipur to extract the stone needed to make more pink paint.

As for the king's grand plan to impress his guests, it seems to have worked. Sir William Howard Russell, a reporter who accompanied the prince and chronicled the trip, remarked, “We passed through a gateway, and Jaipur lay before us, a surprise and wonder forever.”

A bit of flattery didn’t hurt, either. Sawai Ram Singh II, who understood the political advantage of getting in the prince’s good graces, erected the grand Albert Hall Museum in his name. The prince laid the first foundation stone during his visit.

The Albert Hall Museum
The Albert Hall Museum
iStock

While the Prince Albert Edward story is the most widely told tale of how Jaipur got its rosy complexion, there are other notable theories. Author and historian Giles Tillotson posits that Jaipur was painted pink prior to the 19th century in an attempt to emulate the buildings of Delhi and Agra, many of which were constructed from pinkish sandstone. However, he says that Jaipur’s paint was touched up for the prince’s visit—hence the confusion.

In his 2006 book Jaipur Nama: Tales from the Pink City, Tillotson also noted a time in the late 19th century when Jaipur almost abandoned the whole pink project entirely:

“On one occasion, in 1868, the then Maharaja, Ram Singh II, recklessly suggested that the wash might be varied a bit, with different quarters of the city being painted in different colors; but by 1870 this experiment was recognized as a hideous mistake and the pink was restored ... But underneath the range of acrylic powder pinks there are traces of the geru, or terracotta pink, which was indeed original.”

Jaipur received another “facelift” in 2000 ahead of then-president Bill Clinton’s visit. In addition to requiring stores to post their signs in black Hindi lettering on white backgrounds, the city restricted some roads to traffic—which at the time was “unheard of in India,” according to The Rough Guide to India.

While Jaipur is India’s only “Pink City,” it’s not the only monochromatic metropolis in the country. In Rajasthan, there’s the “Blue City” of Jodhpur, the “White City” of Udaipur, and the “Yellow City” of Jaisalmer. Further north, the “Green City” of Chandigarh, so called for its abundant vegetation, made a list of “52 places to go in 2018” curated by The New York Times.

12 Facts About Shirley Chisholm, The First African-American to Run For President

Library of Congress
Library of Congress

Being the first black woman to serve on Congress would be a significant enough accomplishment for a lifetime, but it wasn’t good enough for Shirley Chisholm. Three years after she arrived in Washington, D.C., Chisholm became the first woman to run for president for the Democratic party. When announcing her intention to seek the nomination on January 25, 1972, Chisholm stated, “I’m a revolutionary at heart now and I’ve got to run, even though it might be the downfall of my career.”

Though her campaign was controversial at times, it wasn’t the downfall of her long and noteworthy career. And she's still making headlines. In late 2018, Oscar-winner Viola Davis announced that she would be producing and starring in The Fighting Shirley Chisholm, a biopic chronicling Chisholm's amazing life. On January 21, 2019—nearly 50 years after Chisholm announced her presidential run—California senator Kamala Harris announced her own 2020 presidential run and unveiled her campaign logo, which pays tribute to Chisholm.

Here are a few things to know about this bold educator-turned-politician.

1. She had international roots.

On November 30, 1924, Shirley Anita St. Hill was born in Brooklyn, New York to Ruby Seale and Charles St. Hill. Her mother was a domestic worker who immigrated to the U.S. from Barbados; her father, a factory worker, was originally from Guyana.

2. She was born in Brooklyn, but had a slight English accent.

In 1928, Chisholm and her two sisters were sent to live with their grandmother in Barbados, while her parents stayed in New York and worked through the Great Depression. Chisholm attended a one-room schoolhouse on this island in the West Indies. In addition to receiving a British education, she picked up an accent, which remained slight but noticeable throughout her life.

3. Education had a significant impact on her life.


Library of Congress

Chisholm returned to the U.S. in March 1934 at age 9 and resumed with a public-school education. Following high school, she studied sociology at Brooklyn College and earned her BA in 1946. (She was a prize-winning debater in college, a skill that would serve her well throughout her political career.) She continued her education at Columbia University and earned an MA in early childhood education in 1952. While she was still a student at Columbia, she began teaching at a nursery school and married Conrad Chisholm in 1949. They would later divorce in 1977.

4. Her first career was as an educator.

After working at the nursery school, Chisholm worked her way through the teaching ranks and by 1953 was the director of two day care centers, a position she held until 1959. Her expertise and experience led to her role as an educational consultant for New York City’s Division of Day Care from 1959 through 1964.

5. Her political career was revolutionary from the beginning.

Chisholm was a member of the League of Women Voters and the Bedford-Stuyvesant Political League before she ran for the New York State Assembly in 1964. When she won, Chisholm became the second African-American woman to serve on the state legislature. From 1965 to 1968, Chisholm served as a Democratic member and focused on unemployment benefits for domestic workers and education initiatives.

6. Redistricting inspired her run for Congress.

Chisholm with Rosa Parks (L) between 1960 and 1970.
Chisholm with Rosa Parks (L)
Library of Congress

Chisholm set her sights on Congress when redistricting efforts gave Brooklyn a new congressional district. Not one to shy away from the public, Chisholm used to drive through neighborhoods while announcing, “This is fighting Shirley Chisholm coming through.” She defeated three candidates in the primary election, including a state senator, before defeating well-known civil rights activist James Farmer in the general election. This victory made her the first African-American woman elected to Congress, and she would go on to serve seven terms.

7. She had a way with words and established herself as outspoken and ready for change early in her first term.

She was known for her bold declarations. After her upset victory in the congressional election, she boasted, "Just wait, there may be some fireworks." And she delivered on that promise. Given her campaign slogan “Unbought and unbossed,” it should come as no surprise that Chisholm quickly made her presence known in Congress. She spoke out against the Vietnam War within the first few months of her arrival and said she would vote against military spending. When she was initially relegated to the House Agricultural Committee, she requested a new assignment, claiming that she didn’t think she could best serve her Brooklyn constituents from that position.

After directly addressing House Speaker John McCormack on the matter, she was reassigned to Veterans’ Affairs, and then moved to the Education and Labor Committee in 1971. True to her desire to bring about change, Chisholm hired all women for her office, half of whom were African-American. She was also a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus as well as the National Women’s Political Caucus.

8. Her presidential campaign was unexpected and historic.

Chisholm formally announced her intention to seek the Democratic presidential nomination in January 1972, making her the first African-American to run for a major party and the first woman to vie for the Democratic nomination. During her speech, which she delivered in her hometown of Brooklyn, Chisholm said, "I am not the candidate of black America, although I am black and proud. I am not the candidate of the women's movement of this country, although I am a woman and I am equally proud of that...I am the candidate of the people of America, and my presence before you now symbolizes a new era in American political history."

Although her campaign wasn’t as well-funded as her competitors’, Chisholm did get her name on the primary ballot in 12 states and won 28 delegates in primary elections. She received about 152 delegates at the Democratic National Convention, coming in fourth place for the party.

9. The campaign trail was full of challenges.

Political buttons from the collection of Alix Kates Shulman
Political buttons from the collection of Alix Kates Shulman
Polly Shulman

Chisholm likely expected challenges during her campaign, and she certainly encountered a fair amount. She received multiple threats against her life, including assassination attempts, and was granted Secret Service protection to ensure her safety. Chisholm also had to sue to be included in televised debates.

There was even controversy where there could have been encouragement. Her decision to run for the Democratic nomination caught many members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) off-guard, and they weren’t happy that she acted before a formal and unified decision could be made. But Chisholm was done with waiting; when the subject of the CBC came up on the night she announced her campaign, she told the crowd, “While they’re rapping and snapping, I’m mapping.”

10. She had an unlikely supporter in George Wallace.

Chisholm was well aware that her biggest source of support came from women and minorities and often advocated on their behalf, so it shocked many of her supporters and constituents when she visited political rival George Wallace after an assassination attempt sent him to the hospital—and ultimately left him paralyzed—in 1972. Wallace, who was governor of Alabama, was known for his racist comments and segregationist views, but Chisholm checked on him. She said she never wanted what happened to him to happen to anybody else.

Ultimately, their friendship benefited the public when Wallace came through for Chisholm on an important piece of legislation in 1974. She was working on a bill that would give domestic workers the right to a minimum wage. Wallace convinced enough of his fellow Southern congressmen to vote in favor of the bill, moving it through the House.

11. Following retirement, Chisholm didn’t slow down.

Chisholm retired from Congress in 1982, but leaving the political arena didn’t mean she was done making a difference. Although she planned on spending more time with her second husband, Arthur Hardwick Jr., she also returned to teaching at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts and continued to speak at colleges across the country.

Chisholm passed away on January 1, 2005 at age 80 in Ormond Beach, Florida. She is buried in Buffalo, New York, and the inscription on the mausoleum vault in which she is buried reads “Unbought and Unbossed.”

12. She continues to garner accolades for her trailblazing work.

Chisholm was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1993. In 2014, the U.S. Postal Service debuted the Shirley Chisholm Forever Stamp as part of the Black Heritage Series. A year later, President Barack Obama posthumously awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and now Viola Davis will star in a movie about her life. But Chisholm never doubted what legacy she wanted to leave behind, once saying, “I want history to remember me ... not as the first black woman to have made a bid for the presidency of the United States, but as a black woman who lived in the 20th century and who dared to be herself. I want to be remembered as a catalyst for change in America.”

An earlier version of this article ran in 2017.

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