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Karen Backstein

dancer and arts administrator, was born in New York City, the daughter of Julius J. Adams, a journalist who rose to managing editor of the New York Amsterdam News, and Olive A. Adams, an accomplished pianist. Her parents cultivated in her a deep appreciation of the arts, as well as a legacy of social activism that stayed with Adams throughout her life—both during her career as a dancer and after her retirement from the stage, when she helped found community-based arts centers for children in Harlem. The dance writer Muriel Topaz described the Adamses' home as a “center of social and political activity,” and noted that the Global News Syndicate, an organization of black newspapers, was founded in their small apartment (Topaz, 30).

When she was eight years old Adams entered New York s progressive Ethical Culture School an institution dedicated to the moral as well ...

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Patricia Acerbi

was born into slavery in the northern Brazilian city of São Luís do Maranhão in the mid-nineteenth century. During the middle decades of the Brazilian Empire (1822–1889), São Luís was a prosperous port city organized around the export of sugar, tobacco, cacao, and cotton to major trading centers of the Atlantic world. Adelina participated in the region’s long-established tobacco sector by selling cigars (charutos) on the streets of São Luis as a wage-earning slave (female: ganhadeira; male: ganhador). The slave labor she performed peddling cigars earned her the nickname Charuteira (cigar vendor). Adelina was the daughter of an enslaved woman known as Boca da Noite and a wealthy slaveowner. Her biological father became impoverished and entered the local cigar trade to make ends meet.

Considering common characteristics of small property owners in Brazilian urban slave societies it is likely that Adelina s owner purchased ...

Article

Kathleen Sheldon

queen mother in Ghana, where she served as asantehemaa from around 1809 until about 1819, when she was removed from office after being involved in a failed rebellion against Osei Tutu Kwame. Her father was Apa Owusi, who held the position of mampon apahene, or chief of the locality of Mampon; her mother, Sewaa Awukuwa, was a member of the Asante royal family. It appears from some sources that Adoma Akosua was married to a son of Asantehene Osei Kwadwo.

When the ruling queen mother, Asantehemaa Konadu Yaadom, died in 1809, there were two women with a strong genealogical claim to succeed her. One was Konadu Yaadom’s own daughter, Yaa Dufi, and the other was Adoma Akosua. Adoma Akosua was a matrilateral cousin of Asantehene Osei Tutu Kwame (their mothers were sisters); as such she was eligible to be named asantehemaa and she was selected for ...

Article

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 ...

Article

Charles Rosenberg

college president, activist for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA). Born Mary Rice in Harrisonburg, Virginia, she was the acknowledged daughter of confederate general John R. Jones and Malinda Rice, who was hired as a servant in his household at the age of seventeen in 1873. There appears to have been some enduring affection between Jones and Rice. He acknowledged paternity of Mary and her brother William, and his first wife, Sarah, ill and often confined to bed, asked to see the children and gave them presents. Mary Rice was raised in part by John Rice, Malinda's brother, and his wife Dolly. She also spent time in Jones's household, and after Sarah Jones died in 1879 the general bought a house for Malinda and her children The immediate neighborhood was racially mixed ...

Article

Moroccan female scribe, jurisprudent, and scholar, was a well-known inhabitant of nineteenth-century Tetouan. Her full name was Amina bint al-Hajj ʿAbd al-Latif ibn Ahmad al-Hajjaj.

Morocco had a long tradition of manuscript production, rivaled only by Egypt. Manuscripts in Arabic were created and copied there from the eighth down to the nineteenth centuries, when the arrival of lithography and machine printing virtually put an end to the professional scribe. Although the profession of scribe was normally the province of men in most parts of the Islamic world, in the western parts—Spain and North Africa—women played an important role. In the tenth century there were said to be a thousand women scribes in Cordova who were engaged in copying out Qurʾans. The names of some of these scribes are known, but little other information about them is available.

However in a few cases we do have more information about women scribes ...

Article

John Burdick

semi-mythical Brazilian folk saint, is placed by oral and written legends as living either in the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century. Although officially unrecognized by the Catholic Church, in the late twentieth century she became a widely revered object of spiritual devotion throughout Brazil. The broadly disseminated graphic image of a woman of African descent, sometimes pictured with blue eyes, tortured by an iron face mask and heavy iron collar, is today regarded by millions of Brazilians as a realistic likeness of the popular saint.

In 1968 as part of an exhibit dedicated to the history of slavery the Igreja Nossa Senhora do Rosário dos Homens Pretos Church of Our Lady of the Rosary of the Brotherhood of Blacks in downtown Rio de Janeiro featured an image of a female slave wearing a face mask A cluster of women who saw the image at the time concluded it ...

Article

John Burdick

The worship of Anastacia began in Brazil in the early 1970s The devotion to her centers upon a striking portrait of a young black woman with piercing blue eyes wearing a face iron an iron face mask that slaves were made to wear as a form of punishment Legend has it that Anastacia was tortured with the face iron when she refused to submit to the lust of her master Legend also has it that before she died she forgave her master and cured his child of a fatal disease Although the Catholic Church denounces the devotion to her as superstition at best and heresy at worst millions of Brazilians of all colors are deeply devoted to this woman whom they regard as possessing in death unparalleled supernatural powers Many of her devotees carry a small medallion of her image around their neck others keep a card with her ...

Article

Geraldine Rhoades Beckford

physician, educator, and community worker, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She was the eldest daughter of the abolitionist movement leaders William Still and Letitia George Still. In 1850William Still became the head of the Philadelphia Underground Railroad and Vigilance Committee. He would later chronicle his experiences in the best-selling 1872 account, The Underground Railroad.

After completing primary and secondary education at Mrs. Henry Gordon's Private School, the Friends Raspberry Alley School, and the Institute for Colored Youth, Anderson entered Oberlin College. Although she was the youngest member of the graduating class of 1868, Anderson presided over the annual Ladies' Literary Society, a singular honor that had never been awarded to a student of African ancestry.

After graduating from Oberlin, Anderson returned home to teach drawing and elocution, and on 28 December 1869 she married Edward A. Wiley a former slave and fellow ...

Article

Mary Krane Derr

multi‐instrumental musician, teacher, and orchestra conductor, was born in Lynchburg, Virginia. Some sources give her birth year as 1885; however, according to U.S. census data, it was most likely 1882. Her mother, Betty Anderson, was born March 1849 in Virginia. Little is known about Hallie Anderson's father except that he was also a Virginia native. When Hallie was three, the family migrated to New York City. As a child, Hallie took public school and private music lessons. She received classical training at the New York German Conservatory of Music. Although it did not record her occupation, the 1900 census noted that Hallie's mother was a widow who could neither read nor write, and who had seven living children. Betty Anderson was then living with three of her children, all of whom could read and write: Charles (born Sept. 1872), a waiter; John ...

Article

Charles Rosenberg

activist, lawyer, and the first woman of color to be admitted to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court (active in women's clubs and the Chicago Urban League), was born Violette Neatley in London, England, to Marie Jordi Neatley, a thirty-two-year-old German-Swiss woman, and Richard E. Neatley (sometimes spelled Neatly), a thirty-four-year-old Jamaican of African descent. She moved with her parents to America in 1885, settling in Chicago, where her father worked as a day laborer. Violette Neatley graduated from North Division High School in 1899, leaving her parents' apartment on Wells Street in North Town to marry Amos Preston Blackwell. They remained in North Town, at 473 Park Avenue. Her husband worked as a valet and in 1900 informed the census which recorded him as black that he was born in Canada as were his parents However a divorced man of the same name ...

Article

Shari Rudavsky

nursing educator and administrator, was born in Milledgeville, Georgia, the daughter of a poor family about whom nothing is known. In 1901 Andrews applied to Spelman College's MacVicar Hospital School of Nursing. On her application, she asked for financial assistance, explaining that her family could not help her pay. Her mother had a large family to support and “an old flicted husband,” who was not Andrews's father. Andrews also said that she had been married but did not currently live with her husband and expected no support from him. Letters praising Andrews and talking about her “good moral character” that came from the pillars of Milledgeville society proved instrumental in securing Andrews's admission.

In 1906 Andrews received her diploma from Spelman and set upon her life s work During her training she resolved that I wanted to work for my people how or where this was to be done ...

Article

Vickey Kalambakal

Susan Brownell Anthony was born in Adams, Massachusetts, to an unusual family. Her father was a Quaker; at the religious meetings she attended as a child, women were allowed to speak and were on an equal footing with men. The family was prosperous, and her parents encouraged freethinking and activism in their children. Anthony became an abolitionist and participant in the Underground Railroad. She is best remembered as one of the leaders and organizers of the women's suffrage movement.

Anthony's family moved from Massachusetts to Rochester, New York, in 1845. Over the next few years, the abolitionist and former slave Frederick Douglass also a resident of Rochester became a frequent visitor and speaker at Sunday meetings at the Anthony farm where abolition was discussed Like many reform minded people of the day Anthony also joined the local temperance society After being denied the chance to speak at ...

Article

Lynda R. Day

Ejisuhemaa (female ruler) who led a formidable but ultimately unsuccessful armed resistance to British colonial rule of the Asante Kingdom (in present-day Ghana) from April 1900 until March 1901, was born at Besease, a small town south of Ejisu about 12 miles from Kumasi, capital of the Asante kindom. She and her brother Kwesi were the only children of Nana Atta Poo (mother) and Nana Kweku Ampoma (father). Through her mother in this matrilineal society, Yaa and her brother were members of the Asona royal clan of Ejisu. Based on the estimate that she was at least sixty years old at the time of the Asante-British War of 1900, she is believed to have been born about 1830, during the reign of Osei Yaw Akoto (1822–1833 She married Owusu Kwabena a son of the Asantehene Osei Bonsu and together they had one child a daughter ...

Article

David P. Johnson

An indomitable aristocrat who led her people's last stand against incorporation into the British Empire in 1900, Yaa Asantewa is a much-loved figure in Asante history. In 1896 the British occupied the Asante capital, Kumasi, and sent King Prempeh I and several chiefs and elders to exile in the Seychelles Islands in the Indian Ocean. Among them was Yaa Asantewa's grandson, Kwasi Afrane II, chief of Edweso, one of the states in the Asante Union. As queen mother of Edweso, Yaa Asantewa used her position to organize Asante leaders behind an attack on the British.

In April 1900 the British governor Sir Frederick Hodgson outraged the Asante by demanding the Golden Stool, the sacred symbol of Asante nationhood. Hodgson also announced that the exiled king would be assessed interest payments on his war indemnity and never be allowed to return. The Asante leaders, led by Yaa ...

Article

Antoinette Broussard Farmer

classical pianist, civil rights activist, and social worker, was born Nettie Craig in Leavenworth, Kansas, the daughter of William P. Wallingford, an immigrant farmer from England, and Viola, his former slave. In 1837, prior to Nettie's birth, Wallingford moved his family from Kentucky and settled on the Platte purchase in Missouri. He was married three times and fathered seventeen children including six by Viola. Nettie, the youngest of these, was the only one born free. Information is scarce about Viola. After she was emancipated she rejected Wallingford's name and adopted Craig as her surname, likely because she was born on the Craig plantation in Kentucky. She took her children to Leavenworth, Kansas, where she married Taylor Turner. Her occupation was listed as a domestic. She died in Denver, Colorado, on 29 September 1906 at the age of seventy‐six.

Nettie Craig began studying the piano at eight ...

Article

K. Wise Whitehead

music teacher, violinist, and the first African American woman to earn a degree from the University of Pennsylvania, was born free in Philadelphia to David Bustill Bowser, an ornamental painter, and Elizabeth (Liz) Harriet Stevens Gray Bowser, a seamstress. David Bowser's grandfather was the educator, abolitionist, and baker Cyrus Bustill. Cyrus was both the son and the slave of the white attorney Samuel Bustill and was later freed by Thomas Prior, a Quaker member of the Society of Friends, in Burlington, New Jersey. He was also the grandfather of the abolitionist Sarah Mapps Douglass. In 1787 Cyrus was one of the founders of Philadelphia's Free African Society. Elizabeth Bowser was the daughter of Satterthwait, a Delaware Indian, and Richard Morey, the son of Humphrey Morrey, a white Quaker who was the first mayor of Philadelphia appointed by William Penn in 1691.

Ida s parents were ...

Article

Kelly Boyer Sagert

Born in Hamburg, Germany, Ottilie Assing was the eldest daughter of David and Rosa Maria (Varnhagen) Assing. Her mother was an energetic teacher with a flair for singing and storytelling; her father was a well-known doctor who penned poetry and was prone to depression. David, born with the surname of Assur, was raised as an Orthodox Jew but associated with Christians. He and Rosa, who was not Jewish, raised Ottilie and her younger sister, Ludmilla, as "freethinking atheists, as true daughters of the Enlightenment, who saw themselves as members of a universal human race of thought and reason." They saw education as a "secular form of individual salvation."

Assing's life was not always easy; she witnessed savage anti-Jewish riots, and by the age of twenty-three she had lost both parents. In 1842 she and her sister moved from their hometown to live with an uncle Ludmilla adapted ...

Article

Charles Rosenberg

a teacher who opened the public schools of Philadelphia to children of color, and was the city's first school principal of African descent, was born Cordelia A. Jennings in New York City, the oldest child of a Scottish father, whose first name has not been published, but is recalled by descendants as William, and Mary McFarland Jennings, a school teacher born in Virginia.

In 1850, at the age of seven, Jennings was living in Philadelphia with her mother, sister Caroline, brother William, and brother Mifflin, and an older person named Annie Meda in a racially mixed neighborhood populated by shoemakers turners and carvers of known African descent as well as cooks and blacksmiths listed as white in the federal census Since Mifflin the youngest child was two years old the family had evidently lost their husband and father only recently Mifflin was also the only child ...

Article

Jodie N. Mader

an enslaved woman from South Africa, placed on public display in nineteenth-century Britain and France, where she became known as the “Hottentot Venus.” “Hottentot” was a derogatory word used to describe groups now called “Khoisan” and likely derived from European disparagement of so-called click languages. She was born to a Khoisan family in an area north of the Gamtoos River valley in the eastern Cape Colony. Her name is written sometimes as “Saartjie” (Afrikaans); however, the Anglophone “Sara” is most commonly used. Her mother died when she was an infant, and her father was a cattle driver. A commando raid in 1810 by the Dutch Boers decimated her village, and Baartman, now orphaned, was sent to the Cape to be sold into slavery.

Pieter Cesars a freed black purchased her She became a nursemaid for his brother Hendrik Cesars and his wife Anna Catharina The British physician Alexander Dunlop saw ...