We've all learned about the first American woman to become a self-made millionaire, legendary entrepreneur, philanthropist and social activist Sarah Breedlove also known as Madam C.J. Walker. During the late 1800s, Breedlove developed a horrible scalp disorder that caused her to lose her hair, not one to sit by she began to experiment with both home remedies and store-bought hair care treatments in an attempt to improve her condition, and the rest is as they say is history. Have you ever thought of the woman that came before Breedlove? Her name is Christiana Carteaux Bannister.
Although her story is often overlooked and overshadowed by her husband artist Edward Mitchell Bannister, her story is one of perseverance and enthusiasm. During the mid-1800's Christiana Carteaux Bannister began her career as a hairdresser and wigmaker in Boston at the age of twenty. After noticing that hair salons only catered to men, Bannister sought to open a salon catered just to women.
She ran a successful hair salon in Boston between 1847 to 1871, during that period she opened several salons throughout the New England area. Bannister, being the sole breadwinner in her household, not only supported, but she also encouraged her husband Edward with all his artistic endeavors. Bannister knew as an African American woman she was in a unique position, with her privilege and accumulated wealth; she saw that she need to do more for her community. She and her husband became heavily involved in the abolitionist movement.
They used her salons as hubs for black and white abolitionists to hold meetings and as safe houses for slaves escaping the south. During the Civil War, Bannister used her considerable wealth to advocate and lobby for equal pay for black soldiers in the Union Army. Throughout her life, Christiana Carteaux Bannister was a woman determined to make a difference and to uplift. Whether it was with her salons, wigs or her activism, her story will live on. We thank you, Christiana Carteaux Bannister.