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Christiana Bannister

Born around 1820 of mixed African-American and Native-American heritage to Mary and Charles Babcock, in North Kingstown, RI, Christiana Carteaux Bannister was a pioneering businesswoman and philanthropist in nineteenth-century Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Her entrepreneurial establishment of hair salons and her tireless support of Civil War freemen-soldiers and, later, of distressed working black women, earned her a place of honor and respect in the African-American community. Her efforts contributed greatly to her artist-husband Edward’s emergence as one of the leading African-American artists of his generation. In Boston she advertised her business in William Lloyd Garrison’s abolitionist newspaper the Liberator. Hair salons were also information centers on the Underground Railroad, and for two years the Bannisters lived with Lewis Hayden in Boston, whose home was a known stop on the railroad. Just after the Civil War Christiana served as president of the Boston Colored Ladies’ Sanitary Committee, helping raise funds for disabled veterans and their families, and in her capacity as president, she personally presented one of four regimental flags to the men of the 54th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Moving to Providence in 1879 and then establishing salons at two downtown locations, the couple settled into their own home on Benevolent Street in 1884, where they lived until 1889. Tragically, the couple lived in poverty in their final years. Edward died in January 1901. In September 1902, suffering from dementia, Christiana entered the Home for Aged Colored Women, which she had helped to establish. Declared insane, she died soon after. Read More...

Ronald Dufour Ph.D, Professor, Rhode Island College