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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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Rosemary Reed

Elizabeth Keckley used her needlework skills to purchase her freedom and went on to have such a flourishing business that she became dressmaker to Mary Todd Lincoln. Fortunately for posterity, she also wrote a book about her life, her sewing work, and her experience as someone closely connected to the Lincoln White House. Behind the Scenes; or, Thirty Years as a Slave, and Four Years in the White House (1868) has been a source of historically significant information ever since.

Elizabeth was born Elizabeth Hobbs, the only child of a slave couple, Agnes and George Pleasant Hobbs, in Dinwiddie, Virginia Her mother was a housemaid and excellent seamstress owned by the Burwells a prominent family of central Virginia Her father lived on a neighboring farm and was allowed to visit his family twice a year until he was sold away from them As a ...

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Gertrude Woodruff Marlowe

Keckley, Elizabeth Hobbs (1820?–26 May 1907), White House dressmaker during the Lincoln administration and author, was born in Dinwiddie Court House, Virginia, the daughter of George Pleasant and Agnes Hobbs, slaves. Her birth date is variously given from 1818 to 1824 based on different documents that report her age. The identity of her father is also uncertain; in later life Keckley reportedly claimed that her father was her master, Colonel A. Burwell. George Pleasant, who was owned by a different master, was allowed to visit only twice a year and was eventually taken west.

Elizabeth s life as a slave included harsh arbitrary beatings to subdue her stubborn pride frequent moves to work for often poor family members and being persecuted for four years by Alexander Kirkland a white man by whom she had a son Her life improved when she was loaned to a Burwell daughter ...

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Martin J. Manning

Parks, Lillian Rogers (01 February 1897–06 November 1997), White House seamstress and author, was born Lillian Adele Rogers, the daughter of Emmett E. Rogers, Sr., a waiter, and Margaret “Maggie” Williams Rogers. Source information is sketchy regarding her early years, but her godchild, Peggy Holly, believes that Lillian Parks was born in the District of Columbia and as a child spent summers with relatives in Virginia. Her father—by Parks's account an alcoholic unable to hold a job—left his family when she was a child; in 1909 her mother took a job at the White House at the beginning of William Howard Taft s presidency and often found it necessary to take her daughter along with her when she went to work A victim of polio at the age of six Parks used crutches for the rest of her life She attended St Ann s Catholic School ...

Article

Martin J. Manning

White House seamstress and author, was born Lillian Adele Rogers, the daughter of Emmett E. Rogers Sr., a waiter, and Margaret “Maggie” Williams. Source information is sketchy regarding her early years, but her godchild, Peggy Holly, believed that Lillian Parks was born in the District of Columbia and as a child spent summers with relatives in Virginia. Her father—by Parks's account an alcoholic unable to hold a job—left his family when she was a child. In 1909 her mother took a job at the White House at the beginning of William Howard Taft's presidency and often found it necessary to take her daughter along with her when she went to work A victim of polio at the age of six Parks used crutches for the rest of her life She attended St Ann s Catholic School and Stephens Elementary School in the District of ...

Article

Nancy T. Robinson

actress, seamstress, and model, was born Donessa Dorothy Van Engle in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City to Fred Van Engle, a tailor, and Mynita Duncan. Her mother was born in Massachusetts to Willis and Mabelle Duncan, with whom the family lived at the time of Van Engle's birth. Her father, Fred Van Engle, was born on the island of Saint Kitts and worked as a tailor.

Van Engle was born during the Harlem Renaissance and lived in the same apartment building as the boxer Jack Johnson and the actress Lena Horne with whom she was friends The Harlem Renaissance represented a creative boom and a period of recognition for African Americans in music art literature politics dance theater and business for those from and living in Harlem considered the cultural haven for African Americans In her Harlem neighborhood Van Engle mingled with ...