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Kimberly A. Sisson

poet, clubwoman, and political activist, was born in Chillicothe, Ohio, the daughter of Mary Evans and Joshua T. Williams, whose occupation is now unknown. In 1870 the family moved to Columbus, Ohio, where Mary Evans opened a successful wig-making business that operated for over twenty years. Carrie Williams attended the first integrated school in Columbus; whether she pursued higher education is unknown, however it is known that during the 1880s she taught in Parkersburg, West Virginia.

In 1886, at the age of twenty-four, she married William H. Clifford, a two-term Republican state representative from Cleveland. They would have two sons. As part of the black middle class in Cleveland, Clifford and her husband socialized with other important black figures such as Charles W. Chesnutt and George A. Meyers. Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. Du Bois made frequent appearances in Cleveland joining the Cliffords ...

Article

Leigh Fought

Helen Pitts was born in Honeoye, New York, the daughter of the white abolitionists Gideon and Jane Wills Pitts. Her father began working with the renowned abolitionist and escaped slave Frederick Douglass in 1846. Thus, from an early age Helen knew of Douglass and his work. Her parents, wealthy enough to pursue their progressive ideals, ensured that she and her sisters, Eva and Jane, received a better education than most girls of the era. Although few institutions of higher learning accepted women students, Eva attended Cornell and Helen and Jane both attended Mount Holyoke College. Helen graduated in 1859.

Reconstruction offered Helen the opportunity to combine her education with her activism. She moved to Norfolk, Virginia, to teach in a school for freed slaves in 1863 The swampy climate there took its toll on her health and the violent hostility faced by the African American ...

Article

Rayford W. Logan

Born in Queens County, Long Island, New York, Garnet was the first of eleven children of Sylvanus and Annie (Springfield) Smith, both of mixed Native American and black ancestry. Her parents were landholders and successful farmers. During her childhood there were public schools in New York City, but there seem to have been none on Long Island. For that reason Sarah received her early education from her paternal grandmother, Sylvia Hobbs. At the age of fourteen Sarah began studying in and around New York City at normal schools (training schools for teachers), the first of which was established about 1853. She taught in an African Free School established by the Manumission Society in Williamsburgh, which later became a part of Brooklyn. On April 30, 1863, Garnet became the first black woman to be appointed principal in the New York public school system. Violinist Walter ...

Article

Elizabeth L. Ihle

educator and suffragist, was born Minisarah J. Smith in Queens County, New York, the daughter of Sylvanus Smith and Ann Eliza Springsteel, farmers who were of mixed Native American, black, and white descent. Although Garnet's great-grandmother had established a school that her father attended, little is known about Garnet's own early schooling other than that she was taught by her father. However, she was a teacher's assistant at age fourteen with a salary of twenty dollars per year while she studied at various normal schools in the Queens County area. By 1854 Garnet (known as Sarah) was teaching in the private African Free School in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. In 1863 she became the first African American principal appointed by the New York Public School System, serving at the all-black P.S. 80 from her appointment until her retirement in 1900.

The annual closing exercises at Garnet ...

Article

Donna L. Halper

suffragist and political activist, was born in Danville, Virginia, in 1872 (some sources, notably U.S. Census records, say 1874) to Alfred and Barbara Dillard. Little is known of her early life, but she received training as a dressmaker and clothing designer, studying in London and Paris as well as in the United States.

On 28 September 1898 she married William Harvey Higgins, who had recently graduated from medical school in North Carolina. They lived in New York City while he completed some additional training at Long Island Medical College, and during that period Bertha operated her own dressmaking shop. By 1903William Higgins had opened a medical practice in Providence, Rhode Island, where he was one of the city's few black physicians. As was customary in those days, Higgins gave up her profession after the birth of the couple's first child, Prudence, in 1913 However ...

Article

Thea Gallo Becker

clubwoman, community organizer, and reformer, was born Lugenia D. Burns in St. Louis, Missouri, the daughter of Ferdinand Burns, a well-to-do carpenter, and Louisa M. Bertha. Burns was raised in a Grace Presbyterian, middle-class family. Her father's sudden death forced her mother to move the family to Chicago to maintain their class standing and provide Lugenia, or “Genie” as she was called, with educational opportunities absent in St. Louis. From 1890 to 1893, while her older siblings worked to support the family, Burns attended high school and classes at the Chicago School of Design, the Chicago Business College, and the Chicago Art Institute.

Burns quit school abruptly to help support the family as a bookkeeper and dressmaker After several years she became the first African American secretary to the board of directors of King s Daughters a charitable organization serving teenage working girls the ...

Article

Susan Knoke Rishworth

physician, civil rights and women's suffrage activist, settlement worker, and clubwoman, was born Verina Harris in Ohio, one of five children of Charlotte (Kitty) Stanly, a schoolteacher, and the Reverend W. D. Harris, a minister of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. Her mother came from a family of North Carolina free blacks who had inherited slaves that they wished to emancipate in the North before the impending Civil War. Around 1850 the family moved to Ohio, where Kitty Stanly and her husband taught school. The year of Verina Harris's birth is given as 1865 in some sources, but most probably it was between 1853 and 1857. Little is known about her early life, but the family apparently moved south to Columbia, South Carolina, in 1870 while her father was serving in an AME ministry in various locations in South Carolina More information ...

Article

Alfreda S. James

a Philadelphia abolitionist, was the daughter of James Forten, a sailmaker and landlord, and Charlotte Forten, a homemaker. The senior Fortens had a total of nine children, and they used each birth to honor personal or financial benefactors. Harriet Davy, their third daughter, was no exception; her first and middle names came from two of her father's sail-making contacts. Weaving family matters with outside interests such as abolition and social reform became a recurring theme in Forten's life. She was directly involved in the abolition movement, created women's antislavery groups, and helped finance the vigilance committees—the informal organizations that provided food, shelter, and safe transport to slaves escaping southern masters and northern deputies.

However to define Forten s activities simply in terms of abolition overlooks a key part of her personal history and that of the antebellum community of free northern blacks Forten her sisters and ...