African-American Women in Preservation History Disc/Dec 1997


Query From Barbara J. Howe bhowe@wvnvm.wvnet.edu 05 Dec 1997

I'm finishing up an article on women's roles as leaders in the historic preservation movement in the 19th century for the book Gail Dubrow and Jennifer Goodman are editing from the first two women in historic preservation conferences. My article stops at 1900. Jennifer is now asking whether there is anything we know about African-American women working to save historic sites before the c. 1916 effort to save the Frederick Douglass home in Anacostia. As far as I know, that was the first such effort unless there was something very localized somewhere that had not made the national texts on this subject. I've used Paula Giddings' _When and Where I Enter_. I think that there were far more pressing issues for African-American women than saving old houses at that time, but I'd appreciate any examples any of you may know about. I don't want to extend the article to 1916 because that would mean much more would have to be added for white women and would make the article far too long, so I'm thinking about a conclusion that says "Research to date shows no examples before c. 1916 for African-American women - wouldn't it be great if someone found such a story somewhere and publicized it?" Thanks!

Responses:

From Michele Gates Moresi mmoresi@gwis2.circ.gwu.edu 08 Dec 1997

Perhaps you are already aware of Faith Davis Ruffins' very thorough and detailed article on the same topic in _Gender and History_(1989?). If that does not address your question, certainly contact her--she is a historian at the Archives of the Nat'l Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.

From Cheryl Frank c-frank@uiuc.edu 11 Dec 1997

Did you check whether any efforts were made before that time to save the sites of the so-called Underground Railway or to save Harriet Tubman's home in Auburn, New York? Just some thoughts. I would be interested to know what you may know of these possibilities or what you might find out. I will let you know if I come across anything related to your inquiry.

From Suzanne M. Spencer-Wood smwood@fas.harvard.edu 15 Dec 1997

There are houses on the African-American Freedom Trail in Boston that were on the underground railroad. Also, the Harriet Tubman settlement row house has been marked with a plaque in Boston. Cheers.

From Eve Carr ecarr@asu.edu 16 Dec 1997

The earliest site where African American women were responsible for the actual preservation work, that I've found, is the Frederick Douglass' house in the Anacostia section of DC. His wife and the NACW began paying off the mortgage and presenting it as a historical attraction right after his death in 1895. From what I've read, Harriet Tubman's house wasn't preserved until after her death in 1913. Faith Davis Ruffins has an interesting article in _Gender & History_6:3 (November 1994) called " 'Lifting as We Climb': Black Women and the Preservation of African American History and Culture" that starts off with a comparison of the interpretation of the legacies of Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass.

On a more general note, the National Park Service recently completed a survey of Underground Railroad cites at the behest of Congress. Out of over 300 sites, they picked 42 as eligible for marking as National Historical Landmarks. The whole report (including the list of sites) is available on the web. ...