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Frances Smith Foster

author and activist, was born in Oglethorpe, Georgia, the daughter of slaves. Details of her life are sketchy. Little is known of her parents or her childhood beyond the date and place of her birth and the fact that she was born into bondage; thus, it is particularly intriguing that in 1870, only five years after the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery and one year after Atlanta University opened, seventeen-year-old Octavia was among the 170 students enrolled at that institution. Most of the little we know of her life comes from The House of Bondage (1890), the book that made her famous. From that source we learn that in 1873 she was teaching in Montezuma, Georgia, when she met her fellow teacher A. E. P. Albert. They married in 1874 and had one daughter.Sometime around 1877 Albert s husband was ordained as a Methodist ...

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John Garst

the inspiration for the “Frankie and Johnny” song, was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri. Her parents were Cedric Baker and his wife Margaret (maiden name unknown), and she had three brothers: Charles, Arthur, and James. Charles, who was younger than Frankie, lived with her on Targee Street in 1900. In 1899 Baker shot and killed her seventeen-year-old “mack” (pimp), Allen “Al” Britt. St. Louis pianists and singers were soon thumping and belting out what would become one of America's most famous folk ballads and popular songs, “Frankie and Johnny,” also known as “Frankie and Albert,” “Frankie Baker,” and “Frankie.”

At age sixteen or seventeen Baker fell in love with a man who, unknown to her, was living off the earnings of a prostitute (this kind of man was known as an “easy rider,” a term made famous by W. C. Handy in his ...

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Sharon E. Wood

former slave, entrepreneur, steamboat worker, nurse, and church founder, was born in Bourbon County, Kentucky, in 1801 or 1804. Although her father was a white man and also her master, his name is unknown. Her mother, Lydia, was his slave. While she was still a child, Baltimore's father sold her to a trader who carried her to the St. Louis area. Over the next few years, she passed among several masters, including the New Orleans judge Joachim Bermudez, working as a house servant for French, Spanish, and Anglo-American households in Louisiana and eastern Missouri.

In New Orleans Baltimore joined the Methodist Church Her piety so impressed one preacher that he purchased her then allowed her to hire her own time and buy her freedom Baltimore worked as a chambermaid on steamboats and as a lying in nurse According to tradition it took her seven years to earn the ...

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Tonia M. Compton

Catholic nun, was born Mathilda Taylor in New Orleans, Louisiana, to Caroline Taylor, a slave owned by James C. Taylor, whose surname he gave to his slaves. Her father, whose name is not known, was Native American. Little is known about Mathilda's early years, except that she learned to read and write and that she somehow received her freedom and moved to Savannah. There she began operating a secret school for African American children in the late 1850s, an enterprise for which she risked imprisonment because state laws prohibited education for blacks.

Taylor supported herself by working a variety of jobs in Savannah. In the 1860s she was employed at the Railroad House, a restaurant owned by Abraham Beasley, a prosperous free black man. In 1869 she married Beasley His ventures included a produce market a saloon a boardinghouse and at times the slave trade The two ...

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Theresa Leininger-Miller

artist, was born in Washington, D.C., the daughter of James F. Bell and Susanna County, probably laborers. Little is known about Bell's early life. She presumably attended segregated schools. It is unlikely that she ever received artistic training; she declared that she drew “without human teaching.” She probably worked as a domestic servant, laundress, or seamstress, beginning in her teenage years, and she may have traveled extensively. Bell said she “lived all around” before World War I. Since she does not appear in early-twentieth-century city directories or census records in Washington, D.C., or Boston, Massachusetts, and because she apparently never married or had children, it is likely that she resided with her various employers.

By the mid-1920s Bell was working for Edward Peter Pierce, justice of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts from 1914 to 1937, and Adele Dutaud Pierce his wife as a live ...

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Kimberly Cheek

enslavedAfrican-American woman, was born free in Illinois around 1818. The exact date and place of her birth, and the names of her parents are not known. The memoir From Darkness Cometh Light; or Struggles for Freedom, which was published by her daughter Lucy Ann Delany in 1891, provides an account of her mother's life. Despite this extant narrative the chronological record of Berry's origins, movements, and transfer of ownership during her enslavement remains vague.

Her enslavement began in the 1820s, when Polly was abducted, taken to St. Louis, Missouri, and sold into slavery. Shortly afterward she resided in Wayne County, Kentucky. Eric Gardner in Unexpected Places asserts that the Beatty family of Wayne County Kentucky were Polly s first owners p 33 Eventually the Beattys sold her to a poor farmer named Joseph Crockett and she became known as Polly Crockett When she was fourteen ...

Article

Mary Krane Derr

slave and later servant, was born in Baltimore, Maryland, to Perry Blake, a free African American, and his wife Charlotte, a slave in the household of a prominent merchant, Jesse Levering. The couple had several other children. In 1897 Jesse's daughter Sarah R. Levering published a booklet about Margaret Jane Blake's life through the Press of Innes & Son in Philadelphia. As of 2011 other sources concerning Blake s life were unknown Thus we should read this account with care recognizing that it provides only one perspective on Blake s life and that it comes from a member of the family who once owned her It nonetheless offers several insights on the life of an urban African American woman in slavery and freedom Levering designated the proceeds from the booklet s sale to a Presbyterian affiliated manual labor school for the benefit of the ...

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John French

former slave from Fayetteville, Arkansas, was born on 10 July 1850 in Hickman County, Tennessee. She was aged eighty-seven years in 1937, when she was interviewed as part of the New Deal Works Progress Administration's Slave Narrative project. She was interviewed by Mary D. Hudgins a grand niece of the woman for whom Blakeley had worked in Fayetteville Arkansas Thus as with other WPA narratives Blakeley s testimony should be interpreted within the context of the unequal relationships between blacks and whites under slavery and in the Jim Crow South According to her interviewer she had become quite assimilated into white society and spoke with no discernable dialect She also occupied a relatively high position within the inner social circle of the woman for whom she worked as a servant as the friends and acquaintances of her deceased employer Mrs Hudgins regularly came to visit Blakeley whom ...

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Zoe Trodd

fugitive slave and novelist, escaped in 1857 from her owner and authored The Bondwoman's Narrative (c. 1858), which is most likely the first novel written by a black female (or else written in the same year that Harriet Wilson wrote Our Nig) and is the first novel written by a female fugitive slave. A first-person novel that draws on the author's own life experiences, it is our first “unedited, unaffected, unglossed, unaided” glimpse into the mind of a fugitive slave, as literary scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. explains in his introduction to the 2002 edition of the novel (p. xxxiii).

Originally the slave of Lewis Bond, Hannah ended up in the household of the Wheeler family, through Lucinda Bond, the wife of John Hill Wheeler's brother. In 1856 Wheeler and his wife Ellen gained ownership of Hannah Enslaved on Wheeler s plantation in Murfreesboro eastern ...

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Lyde Cullen Sizer

Union spy during the Civil War, was born a slave on the Richmond, Virginia, plantation of John Van Lew, a wealthy hardware merchant. Very little is known about her early life. Upon Van Lew's death in 1843 or 1851, his wife and daughter, Elizabeth, manumitted his slaves and bought and freed a number of their family members, Mary among them. Like most of their former slaves, Mary remained a servant in the Van Lew household, staying with the family until the late 1850s. Noting her intellectual talent, Elizabeth, a staunch abolitionist and Quaker, sent Mary to the Quaker School for Negroes in Philadelphia to be educated.

Mary returned from Philadelphia after graduating to marry Wilson Bowser, a free black man. The ceremony was held on 16 April 1861 just days after the Civil War began What made the ceremony so unusual was that the parishioners of ...

Article

Crystal Renée Sanders

educator and community leader, was born in Amelia County, Virginia, probably a slave, to Henry Dixon, a carpenter, and Augusta Hawkins Dixon, a domestic servant. After emancipation she moved with her family to Richmond, where they were active in the First African Baptist Church and where she would teach Sunday school for the next half century. Bowser completed her education at Richmond Colored Normal School, where she was taught by the school's founder, Rabza Morse Manly, a noted educator throughout the South.

In 1872 Bowser began her teaching career at Richmond's Navy Hill School. She became the first black woman appointed to teach in Richmond public schools and continued to teach until her marriage to James Herndon Bowser on 4 September 1878. Their only child, Oswald Barrington Herndon Bowser who became a well known physician in Richmond was born two years later Her husband died ...

Article

Brian Tong and Theodore Lin

retiring room attendant, activist, most renowned for winning the 1873 Supreme Court Case Railroad Company v. Brown, was born Katherine Brown in Virginia. There are many variations of her name; in some documents, she is referred to as “Catherine Brown,” “Katherine Brown,” “Kate Brown,” or “Kate Dodson.” In the New York Times article “Washington, Affairs at the National Capital,” her name appears as “Kate Dostie.” Very few records of Brown's life survive today; as a result, much of her childhood and personal life remains unknown.

Kate Brown's recorded personal life begins with her marriage to Jacob Dodson. Jacob Dodson had a colorful past. Born in 1825, Dodson was a freeman. He spent most of his early life as a servant for the Missouri senator Thomas Hart Benton, but in 1843 Dodson began to accompany John C. Fremont, son-in-law of Senator Benton ...

Article

Betti Carol VanEpps-Taylor

the first non-Indian woman to view the Black Hills. Conflicting information exists about her early years, but all sources agree that she was born in Kentucky, in 1813 or perhaps 1824. The 1813 date appeared in one of her obituaries. In later years she told of traveling up the Missouri River on the first steamboat in 1831, perhaps as a servant, cook, or lady's maid. Employment on the riverboats plying the Missouri River trade from St. Louis north during the mid-1800s provided opportunities for many black Americans to experience a measure of freedom, save some money, and have an adventure. Often they settled in one of the many northern river ports. Sarah Campbell made the most of that opportunity She worked many years on the river before purchasing property in the river town of Bismarck in present day North Dakota a territory when Campbell settled there North ...

Article

Doris Evans McGinty

singer and educator, was born in Dryridge, Kentucky, the daughter of Alexander Childers and Eliza Butler, former slaves. She studied voice at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio and in 1896 was awarded a diploma that was replaced by a bachelor's degree in 1906, when the conservatory began granting degrees. The Oberlin Conservatory chapter of Pi Kappa Lambda, a national honor society, elected her a member in 1927. She studied voice further with Sydney Lloyd Wrightson at the Washington Conservatory of Music in Washington, D.C., with William Shakespeare, and with Oscar Devries at Chicago Musical College.

As a singer Childers enjoyed modest distinction. During her college years and shortly afterward, she performed in the Midwest with the Eckstein-Norton Music Company, a quartet of singers and their accompanist teamed with the concert pianist Harriet A. Gibbs The group contributed their earnings to the development of ...

Article

Abha Sood Patel

educator and humanitarian. Cooper was born Anna Julia Haywood in Raleigh, North Carolina, to Hannah Stanley Haywood and purportedly her master, George Washington Haywood. Cooper was a noted scholar at a young age. In 1868 she received a scholarship to attend Saint Augustine's Normal School and Collegiate Institute, founded to provide education to former slaves and their families. Cooper spent fourteen years at the institute, both as a pupil and as a teacher. She excelled at the humanities, as well as at math and science, and she fought for her right to take “men's” courses, such as Greek. On 21 June 1877 she married the Reverend George A. C. Cooper, her teacher in the Greek theological class. Her marriage barred her from teaching at Saint Augustine's. Her husband died two years later, and she never married again.

In 1880 Cooper won a scholarship to Oberlin College ...

Article

Elizabeth Ammons

Anna Julia Haywood Cooper was born in Raleigh, North Carolina, the daughter of a slave, Hannah Stanley Haywood, and her white master, George Washington Haywood, with whom neither she nor her mother maintained any ties. At age nine she received a scholarship to attend the St. Augustine's Normal School and Collegiate Institute for newly freed slaves, and in 1877 she married an instructor at the school, a Bahamian-born Greek teacher named George Cooper. Left a widow in 1879, she never remarried. She enrolled in 1881 at Oberlin College, where educator and activist Mary Church (later Terrell) also studied, and elected to take the “Gentleman's Course,” rather than the program designed for women. She received her bachelor's degree in 1884 and after teaching for a year at Wilberforce University and then returning briefly to teach at St Augustine s she went back to Oberlin to ...

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Charles Lemert

Anna Julia Cooper is best known for her book A Voice from the South by a Black Woman of the South (1892), a classic in the tradition known today as the woman of color standpoint in social theory. No one before, except perhaps Sojourner Truth, had so clearly defined what Cooper called “the colored woman’s office” in the moral politics of late-nineteenth-century America.

Anna Julia Cooper was born in Raleigh, North Carolina, the daughter of Hannah Stanley, a slave. Her white biological father, George Washington Haywood, was her mother’s owner. Of her biological father, Cooper once wrote: “I owe him not a sou and she [her mother] was always too shamefaced ever to mention him.” The child grew to carry herself with the mother’s sense of dignity and propriety.

Anna Julia s life began just before the outbreak of the American Civil War and ...

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Lisa Clayton Robinson

“Only the Black Woman can say ‘when and where I enter, in the quiet, undisputed dignity of my womanhood, without violence and without special patronage, then and there the whole Negro race enters with me.’” In this passage from her speech “Womanhood a Vital Element in the Regeneration and Progress of a Race,” published in her 1892 work A Voice From the South: By a Black Woman of the South Anna Julia Cooper expresses one of her most important beliefs In her writings and speeches Cooper often argued that the status of the entire black race was dependent on the status of the women who run the homes and raise the children and that one of the best ways to elevate black women s status was to increase their educational opportunities As an activist and educator she spent most of her life simultaneously promoting these ideas and putting ...

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Kimberly Springer

educator, writer, and activist, was born Anna Julia Haywood in Raleigh, North Carolina, to Hannah Stanley, a slave. There is no consensus regarding her father, although he was most likely her mother's owner, Dr. Fabius J. Haywood, or his brother, George Washington Haywood. Anna exhibited a love of books and a gift for learning early in her childhood. Hannah was hired out as a nursemaid to a successful local lawyer, whose family most likely assisted her daughter in learning to read and write. Most important, however, was Anna's mother herself, who although illiterate, encouraged her daughter's education.

In 1867 Anna was one of the first students admitted to St Augustine s Normal School and Collegiate Institute a recently founded Episcopal school for newly freed slaves At age nine she found herself tutoring students older than herself and decided to earn her teaching credentials At St Augustine s ...

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Linda M. Perkins

educator, civic and religious leader, and feminist, was born a slave in Washington, D.C., the daughter of Lucy Jackson. Her father's name and the details of her early childhood are unknown. However, by the time she was age ten, her aunt Sarah Orr Clark had purchased her freedom, and Jackson went to live with relatives in New Bedford, Massachusetts. By 1851 she and her relatives had moved to Newport, Rhode Island, where Jackson was employed as a domestic by George Henry Calvert, a descendant of Lord Baltimore, the settler of Maryland. Jackson's salary enabled her to afford one hour of private tutoring three times a week. Near the end of her six-year stay with the Calverts, she briefly attended the segregated public schools of Newport. In 1859 Jackson enrolled at the Rhode Island State Normal School in Bristol In addition to the normal course she also studied ...