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Theresa Vara-Dannen

seamstress, washerwoman, and founder of a New Haven home for the indigent, first appears in public records as a resident of New Haven, Connecticut in a City Directory in 1848. Nothing is known for certain about her birthplace or her parentage. In 1848 she was listed simply as “Miss Hannah Gray, col’d,” of 5 Winter Street.” In 1850, she was boarding with two white women, but on the census form, her place of birth seems to be deliberately illegible.

Although little is known about her origins, it is clear that she saved money and generously supported Connecticut's Underground Railroad and “poor strangers from slavery” (Black Women of Connecticut, p. 31) seeking freedom. The Yale University Divinity School community patronized her laundry and sewing business. Over time she saved enough to purchase a modest four-room home at 158 Dixwell Avenue in New Haven. In the 1860 ...