The Hair Doctress Gives: Christiana Bannister's Legacies

Pioneering Businesswoman and Philanthropist

"I would have made out very poorly had it not been for her." - Edward Bannister

Christiana Bannister founded the Home for Aged Colored Women in 1890. Initially, the home was established to care for retired black female domestic workers. Later the name was changed to Banister House to honor its founder. In 1974 a new multi-level building was constructed to house the Bannister Nursing Care Center. The Center continues to serve elderly residents, providing them with physical and recreational therapy.

Christiana Babcock was born to African American and Narragansett Indian parents. After an early marriage to Desiline Carteaux, in 1857 Christiana married Edward Mitchell Bannister, a struggling black, Canadian painter, who had earlier worked for Christiana at her Boston hair salon. In 1859, thanks to Christiana’s success, Edward left the salon and dedicated his life to painting. Edward later said of his wife, "I would have made out very poorly had it not been for her."

Christiana achieved renown as an entrepreneur and hairdresser, advertising in the abolitionist newspaper Liberator. She called herself a “Hair Doctress” and marketed her hair elixirs. In her newspaper advertisements, Bannister claimed that her “Hair Restorative and Oils […] will not only prevent the hair from falling off but cause new hair to grow.”

In the 1880s, now in Providence, Bannister worked to establish the Home for Aged Colored Women, created to aid retired black women who had been domestic workers. Christiana reached out to Elizabeth Goddard Shepard, who, together with her husband T.P. Shepard, happily supported Bannister's cause. The Shepards' gave Christiana’s organization a plot of land located in Fox Point, Providence, which opened as the Home for Aged Colored Women in April 1890.

Unfortunately, Christiana suffered through the later years of her life. On January 9, 1901, her beloved Edward passed away suddenly during a prayer meeting at the Elmwood Avenue Baptist Church. Soon after, Christiana found herself living in poverty and had to move into the Home that she had founded. Christiana continued to decline, becoming extremely violent, and was removed from the Home after only eight days. Later transferred to the State Hospital for the Insane, the Howard Asylum, she spent her final days in an asylum bed, suffering from extreme dementia. Christiana Babcock Carteaux Bannister died on December 29, 1902, and was buried next to her husband in the North Burial Ground.

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5 Branch Avenue, Providence, RI 02904 ~ Access the grave via North Burial Ground's south gate/main entrance at North Main Street and Branch Avenue during normal business hours, or by the pedestrian gate on North Main Street and Rochambeau Avenue.