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Charles Rosenberg

spent his childhood and early adulthood in Pennsylvania, and may have been born in Philadelphia. Various censuses suggest his year of birth may have been 1818, 1820, or 1824, but a likely 1850 census entry shows his age as thirty-two.

Anderson’s parents have yet to be identified, and little is known about his life growing up in Pennsylvania. Contemporary accounts in California refer to him having worked as a waiter, and a Peter Anderson referenced as mulatto, who worked as a waiter, was recorded in the 1850 federal census living in Philadelphia’s Spruce Ward. Living with him were a woman named Mary Anderson—possibly his wife, or maybe his sister—two boys named Peter and George Anderson, and an unidentified nineteen-year-old named Elizabeth Purnell.

Anderson arrived in California in 1854, as the Gold Rush of 1849 was declining and established a tailor shop described in some directories ...

Article

Susan Bragg

tailor, store owner, and newspaper editor, was born in Pennsylvania, to parents whose names and occupations are now unknown. Little is known about Anderson's early life except that he was a member of the Masonic Fraternity, ultimately gaining appointment as Deputy Grand Master of the Grand Lodge for the State of Pennsylvania. Anderson migrated west in the waning days of the California gold rush and in 1854 set up a tailor shop and clothing store in San Francisco. There he plunged into the city's small but energetic black community, a community linked by both the mining economy and by shared protest against injustices in the new state of California.

Anderson soon became a regular contributor to political discussions at the recently organized Atheneum Institute, a reading room and cultural center for black Californians. In January 1855 he and other prominent African Americans joined together to call ...

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Stephen Bourne

Black Londoner whose life as a working‐class seamstress was documented in Aunt Esther's Story (1991), published by Hammersmith and Fulham's Ethnic Communities Oral History Project, and co‐authored with Stephen Bourne. Aunt Esther's Story provides a first‐hand account of Bruce's life as a black Briton in the pre‐Empire Windrush years. Her father, Joseph (1880–1941), arrived in London from British Guiana (now Guyana) in the early 1900s and settled in a tight‐knit working‐class community in Fulham. He worked as a builder's labourer. When Bruce was a young child, Joseph instilled in his daughter a sense of pride in being black. After leaving school, she worked as a seamstress, and in the 1930s she made dresses for the popular African‐American stage star Elisabeth Welch. She also befriended another black citizen of Fulham: the Jamaican nationalist Marcus Garvey She told Bourne he was a nice chap ...

Article

Graham Russell Hodges

Born in rural Deptford Township, near Woodbury, New Jersey, Isaac Tatem Hopper was raised on a farm. His parents, Levi and Rachel Tatem Hopper, split between the Presbyterian and Quaker faiths, Levi practicing the former, Rachel the latter. Isaac joined the Society of Friends at the age of twenty-two. He became a staunch Whig after observing British looting of farms and resolved to fight servitude after hearing sad tales from black men of the slave trade and of flight from slavery.

Hopper married Sarah Tatum, a neighboring farm girl, in 1795. That same year he joined the Pennsylvania Abolition Society and taught black children and adults in a Quaker-sponsored school. In 1797 he began advising blacks about legal opportunities for emancipation in Pennsylvania as well as hiding runaways from southern states He combated slave kidnappers and struggled against the practice of buying them running by which agents ...

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Dennis Gouws

teacher, model, dramatist, and collector of African American artifacts, was born in London to a West Indian mother and a British father, of whom little is known. It is believed that his mother was black and his father was white. Nor is it known when Jackman came to the United States, but he was raised in Harlem, New York, and graduated from DeWitt Clinton High School, where he befriended the poet Countée Cullen. Jackman earned a BA degree from New York University in 1923 and an MA from Columbia University in 1927. For more than three decades he taught social studies in the New York Public Schools.

Aptly described as the non writer whom everyone adored Jackman inspired tributes from those prominent Harlem Renaissance personalities with whom he socialized Griffin 494 Cullen for example dedicated an early version of his poem Advice to Youth ...

Article

Leyla Keough

Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley was born in Dinwiddie Court House, Virginia, to Agnes, a slave of the Burgwell family, and George Pleasant, who was owned by a man named Hobbs. When Elizabeth was in her teens, the Burgwells sold her to a slaveowner in North Carolina by whom she was raped and had one child, George. Shortly thereafter, a Burgwell daughter, Anne Burgwell Garland, bought Elizabeth and her son. They were taken to St. Louis, where Elizabeth married James Keckley. She later found he had deceived her by claiming to be a free man, and the couple separated.

To support her owner's household, Keckley worked as a seamstress. She acquired many loyal customers, one of whom loaned Keckley $1,200 to buy her freedom in 1855. In 1860, Keckley relocated to Baltimore, Maryland, and then to Washington D C where she opened a successful ...

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Anne Bradford Warner

Elizabeth Keckley became a center of public controversy with the 1868 publication of Behind the Scenes, or Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House.

Born a slave in Dinwiddie Court House, Virginia, Keckley became such an accomplished seamstress that she was able to purchase her own freedom and her son's. After manumission she moved from St. Louis to establish herself in Washington, D. C., in 1860, becoming modiste first to the wife of Mississippi Senator Jefferson Davis and finally to Mary Todd Lincoln during Abraham Lincoln's first term. Two-thirds of Behind the Scenes concerns Keckley's life with the Lincolns and the difficult period following the president's assassination, especially Mary Lincoln's desperate attempt to raise money through what became known as the “Old Clothes Scandal.” A misplaced trust in her editor, James Redpath and the sensationalist marketing of Carleton and Company culminated ...

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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 ...

Article

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 ...

Article

Jennifer Fleischner

slave, dressmaker, abolitionist, and White House memoirist, was born Elizabeth Hobbs in Dinwiddie County, Virginia, the daughter of Armistead Burwell, a white slaveholder, and his slave Agnes Hobbs. Agnes was the family nurse and seamstress. Her husband, George Pleasant Hobbs, the slave of another man, treated “Lizzy” as his own daughter, and it was not until some years later, after George had been forced to move west with his master, that Agnes told Lizzy the identity of her biological father. While her mother taught her sewing, the skill that would make her name and fortune, it was George Hobbs who first instilled in Lizzy a profound respect for learning. Ironically, it was Armistead Burwell, who repeatedly told Lizzy she would never be “worth her salt,” who probably sparked her ambition to succeed and prove him wrong.

As a young girl Hobbs lived in ...

Article

Elena Bertoncini Zúbková

Swahili poet, scribe, calligrapher, woodcarver, performer, tailor, musician, and dance master, was born in Lamu on the northern coast of Kenya. Nicknamed Kijum(w)a, “little slave,” by his mother at his birth (hoping this nickname would be auspicious), his full name was Muhammad bin Abubekr bin Omar Kijumwa (also Muhamadi bin Abu Bakari, Mohamed Abubakar Kijumwa, and other possible transliterations from the Arabic script). He studied at the qurʾanic school, made the pilgrimage to Mecca three times, and became a renowned and versatile artist, who handed to his son Helewa the craft of carving the beautifully ornamented doors in Lamu. Among other skills, he made musical instruments and was a famous player of the kibangala a seven stringed lute He passed most of his life in Lamu but in the 1890s he worked as a scribe in the small protectorate of Witu inland from the Kenyan coast which was part ...

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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

Françoise N. Hamlin

beautician and civil rights activist, was born Vera Mae Berry in Leflore County, near Glendora, Mississippi, the home of her maternal great grandmother. She was the daughter of Wilder Berry, a barber and tailor, and Lucy Wright Berry. Her father walked away from his livelihood and his young family, leaving her mother to raise Vera and her brother, W. C., in Tutwiler, Tallahatchie County.

Lucy Berry's influence left its mark on her daughter. With only an eighth-grade education, she raised livestock and a garden while also working in the fields and as a domestic, so her children never felt the hunger of poverty, unlike the sharecroppers around them in the Delta. As an adult, Vera Pigee remembered her mother's resistance to white racism, a tenacious and dangerous stance in the Mississippi Delta during the years of Jim Crow Her good work and diligence made her a ...

Article

Kathryn L. Staley

lady's maid, hairdresser, and author, was presumably born free in Cincinnati or New York. Little is known about her childhood and personal life in general. She was raised in New York but her parents' names are unknown. One biographer lists her maiden name as Johnson and another states that she was the former Mrs. Johnson but neither provides a source. As a child she apparently did not obtain extensive education and began working as a domestic while young.

Most information about Potter stems from the anonymously published A Hairdresser's Experience in High Life (1859 At the time of publication it was universally attributed to her however within her work she masked most of her private life and instead described her clientele According to the autobiography Potter moved to Buffalo committed a weakness and married Potter 12 Ever private she neglects to mention to whom she ...

Article

civic leader, politician, and barber, was born in Fredericksburg, Virginia. He claimed, in an autobiographical sketch published shortly before his death, to be the son of Streshley Simmons, a black veteran of the War of 1812, and Rosetta Waring (Historical Hand, 33). A tradition among Robert's descendants, however, held that his actual father was “a master” (white plantation owner). Certainly Simmons's facial features appeared mulatto, and he is listed as such in three federal censuses. No documentation is known for the earliest period of Simmons's life. However, it is known that in April 1841 he immigrated to Parkersburg, (West) Virginia, on the Ohio River and successfully established himself as a barber, which would remain his lifelong vocation. On 19 January 1843, he married Susan King. By 1858, the couple had become parents of nine children.

Simmons s rise to ...

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Claranne Perkins

entrepreneur, lifestyle expert, author, and model, was born Barbara Smith near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the daughter of William H. Smith, a steel worker, and Florence Claybrook Smith, a part-time maid. She has described her parents as the original Bob Villa and Martha Stewart referring to the television handyman and the multimedia domestic guru respectively and was greatly influenced by the home her parents established She assisted them in the family s vegetable and flower gardens While in high school Smith studied cooking sewing nutrition and fashion During the same time she took classes at the John Robert Powers modeling school in Pittsburgh on the weekend She completed her modeling studies shortly before she graduated from high school After graduation Smith moved to Pittsburgh where she worked hard to launch her modeling career It was not easy but in the late 1960s after a national ...

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Benjamin R. Justesen

barber, newspaper editor, public official, and six-term state legislator, was born in Covington, Georgia, the son of James Williamson, a slave, and an unknown mother. Little is known of his childhood, although he reportedly taught himself to read against the wishes of his owner, who hired him out to reduce his free time. The determined youth responded by borrowing his white playmates' schoolbooks at night, then tutoring them each morning.

His parents were owned by General John N. Williamson, a wealthy white attorney. In 1858 John Hendrick Williamson moved to Louisburg, North Carolina, with his widowed mistress Temperance Perry Williamson. By the end of the Civil War, he had become a skilled and popular barber, and in 1865 he became a delegate to the first statewide Freedmen's Convention. Two years later he was appointed a Franklin County voter registrar by the controversial general Daniel ...