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Carol Parker Terhune

abolitionist and social leader, was born in New York City to free parents, James and Dorothy Gardner. Her father was a shipping contractor who made sails for large vessels. About 1845, while Gardner was in her teens, her family took up residence in Boston, Massachusetts, and opened its own business. Gardner attended the Boston Public School for Colored Children (also known as the Smith School, after the white businessman Abiel Smith, who donated funds). She was educated by leaders in the antislavery movement and developed an appreciation for their cause. The school was also used as a meeting place for the “colored citizens” to discuss issues of concern in their communities. During Gardner's time in Boston's only “colored” grammar school, Boston's African American community was fighting tirelessly to abolish colored schools and end school segregation using the Roberts v. Boston case as the catalyst Gardner ...

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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 ...

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Mary Frances Berry

washerwoman, seamstress, organization founder, lecturer, and leader, was born into slavery in Rutherford County near Nashville, Tennessee. She had at least one sister, Sarah, and a brother, Charles. Her parents were slaves. Her father, Tom Guy, apparently served in the Union army. The 1880 Census lists her mother, Ann Guy, as a widowed washerwoman. Callie Guy had only a primary school education, probably attending Freedman's Bureau and church schools, but exhibited a high degree of literacy as an adult.

In 1883 she married William House, a laborer in Rutherford County, and bore six children, five of whom survived to adulthood. In the 1890s she was a widow, taking in laundry like her mother and other impoverished black women in the South.

About this time a new idea for political action surfaced in Rutherford County and other communities where former slaves ...