Faces of Black History – Christiana Bannister

Before Madam C.J. Walker and Annie Turnbo Malone succeeded in the beauty industry in the early 20th century, Christiana Carteaux Bannister, a woman of African-American and Narragansett Indian heritage, had already achieved success as a hair stylist (and wigmaker) in pre-Civil War America. Carteaux Bannister was born Christiana Babcock in Rhode Island circa 1820. After moving to Boston in the 1840s, she became a skilled hairdresser (or “hair doctress,” as stylists were known at the time). Following a failed marriage that gave her the last name Carteaux, she went into business as Madame Carteaux.

Carteaux ended up operating several salons in Boston, and one in Worcester, Massachusetts; she also produced a line of hair care products. Her businesses did so well that when she wed her second husband, Edward M. Bannister, in 1857, she was able to support him as he pursued a career as a painter. Carteaux also used her financial acumen to support worthy causes, such as raising funds for the Fifty-Fourth Massachusetts Regiment, which was made up of African-American soldiers who fought in the Civil War.

Rising racial tensions prompted the Bannisters to move to Rhode Island after the war, but Carteaux Bannister was able to open another salon in Providence. Her charitable actions continued as well: in 1890, she founded the Home for Aged and Colored Women (which still operates under the name Bannister Nursing Care Center). A century after her 1902 death, a bust of Carteaux Bannister was dedicated in Rhode Island’s State House.

Christiana Bannister fell into poverty near the end of her life. Not long after her husband passed away in 1901, she was sent to live at the Home for Aged Colored Women. However, Bannister was reportedly suffering from dementia by this time, leading to a short stay at the facility she had helped build and support; she was moved to the State Hospital for the Insane, where she died on December 29, 1902. She was buried next to her husband at the North Burial Ground in Providence, but no marker was placed for the woman who had done so much for her community.

It took until 2002 for Bannister to receive proper public recognition of her contributions, with the unveiling of a bronze sculpture bust in her honor at the Rhode Island State House. The following year, she was inducted into the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame.

For more information on Christianna read Biography

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