Snapshot: Christiana Carteaux Bannister

Carteaux Bannister was a nineteenth-century hair doctress and philanthropist.

The wind on her vestment says it all: Christiana Carteaux Bannister was a woman with agency. Momentum. “A spark,” says Massachusetts-based sculptor Pablo Eduardo, who was commissioned by the Rhode Island Foundation to create this bust for the State House in 2002. Christiana, born in 1819 to a Black and Indigenous family in North Kingstown, was an entrepreneur who grew her wealth as a hair doctress in Boston. There, she met a young out-of-work painter named Edward Mitchell Bannister. She took him on at her salon, housed him, married him and supported him, and the two were active in Boston’s Underground Railroad. Eventually, the pair moved to Providence, where Edward’s art career flourished in the face of Reconstruction-era racism. Christiana opened another salon and devoted her spare time to activism and philanthropy. In 1890, she helped found the Home for Aged Colored Women, a place where retired domestic servants could live out their final days in peace. In 1902, a widowed and indigent Christiana would live there, too, for a few nights of senile unrest — would such a woman go gentle into the good night? — before being moved to the State Hospital for the Insane, where she died in 1903.